Marking the first time all nine of Carnival Corp.'s brands will be marketed together in a major way, CEO Arnold Donald will join comedian Cedric the Entertainer in a call for Carnival customers to help pick the company's next marketing theme.
The pair will co-host the "World's Leading Cruise Lines Marketing Challenge," an interactive crowd-sourcing program in which digital and social media contestants will choose from among six proposed creative concepts.
To encourage engagement, Carnival is dangling a grand prize of one cruise a year for life.
The outreach begins Nov. 24 and will continue in the first quarter of 2015 with TV ads based on the outcome of the contest.
In a call with reporters following the campaign's announcement, Donald said its dual goals were to get people to consider going on a cruise and to educate them about the exceptional value and "extraordinary experience" a cruise provides.
He said Carnival would spend more than $1 million on the campaign but declined to be more specific. Together, Carnival Corp. and its brands spend about $500 million a year on marketing, Donald said.
The marketing campaign will ramp up as consumers move into the year-end holidays and the industry's traditional Wave period in the beginning of each calendar year.
It will tie the marketing of Carnival's flagship Carnival Cruise Lines brand to other lines such as Princess Cruises and Holland America Line in a bid to show that there's a style of cruising for every type of consumer, no matter their tastes.
Cruise lines and travel agents are hoping that 2015 will build on the 2014 absence of mishaps that marred cruise seasons in 2012 and 2013 and that pricing will improve as the glut of the capacity in the Caribbean region begins to dissipate, starting in the second quarter.
Carnival is returning to some fundamental themes to try to build demand, including addressing the myths, misconceptions and fears that have historically kept some from trying a cruise.
Those include ideas public impressions that ships are too crowded, that there's nothing to do onboard, that sea sickness is common and that cruising appeals to just one demographic -- the elderly or the young, depending on the preconceptions of the audience.
Donald said consumers will be asked to vote on which ad concept does the best job of both dispelling misconceptions about cruising and bringing the cruise experience to life.
"We have several creative concepts to disrupt what people think about cruising, and we like them all," Donald said.
Starting Nov. 24, Carnival will use a revamped WorldsLeadingCruiseLines.com website to serve as a hub for the marketing challenge and other messages related to the multibrand campaign.
The World's Leading Cruise Lines was created in 1998 and included Carnival, Costa, Holland America, Seabourn and Windstar. After Carnival's acquisition of P&O Princess Cruises, Princess was added to the lineup.
The initiative provided a vehicle to cross-market the brands involved and coordinate past passenger loyalty programs, but it has not been further developed in recent years.
The new campaign will put a renewed spotlight on the name.
In another engagement initiative, the site will be home to an interactive tool that consumers can use to discover their cruise persona.
"It's our job to help people find which of our brands is for them," Donald said. To do so, they can answer a set of six questions that will feed a computer program and yield their "Cruise-a-nality," as Carnival is styling it.
The tool is based on early results from a data-mining project in which Carnival reviewed 30 million guest profiles. The program will assign one of 30 personalities to each guest who takes the quiz.
"Finding the right cruise brand to sail helps make sure people have a great experience," Donald said.
In response to a question, Donald said the tool is not meant to usurp the role of agents in assessing and directing their clients and that the website would include an agent call to action, such as "Contact your travel professional today."
Donald said Carnival needs the public to be well educated about its brands and about what differentiates them from one another and from a land vacation.
In another development, Carnival has created a corporate-wide Twitter handle @CarnivalPLC, which will be used for giveaways to help boost awareness of cruising, Donald said. In a contest, consumers will be asked to share what they love about cruising.
Prizes will go to the person who posts the 50,000th tweet, with further prizes at the 150,000, 250,000, 400,000, 500,000 and 750,000 tweet levels. A random tweet will be selected to receive 100 days of cruising for two on any of Carnival's U.S.-based brands.
The interactive aspect of the campaign is expected to appeal to millennial-generation cruisers and to yield social media contact information for further communications.
"I wanted to create a program that would get people engaged," Donald said. "That would invite them to become part of a campaign so we can begin building a longer-term relationship with them and have a greater probability of being disruptive and getting the key messages across to our audience."
Other companies have also targeted millennials by asking them to participate in creating ads. Audi, for example, used YouTube to ask viewers to choose one of three endings for an ad it prepared for the 2013 Super Bowl.
Donald said he hoped it would be interesting enough and fun enough that participation will be high, "and in the process it will really help educate people about what cruising really is, and not the [misconceptions] they may have formed from whatever imagery they may have gotten."