Carnival line turns to past passengers, social media for a $25M ad campaign

Carnival Cruise Lines hits the airwaves this week with a $25 million advertising campaign designed to accelerate the recovery of its brand from the Carnival Triumph fire in February.

The campaign, titled "Moments that Matter," seeks to remind viewers that cruising on Carnival produces good memories.

To implement the idea, Carnival solicited 30,000 still photos and videos via social media from its past passengers, asking them to provide moments of celebration, fun and excitement.

Hundreds of the images appear in the TV ads surrounded by picture frames that seem to hang in mid-air as would-be passengers walk down a city street or a country road.

Starting Sept. 23, the ads will appear on network shows such as "The Voice" and "Big Bang Theory" and on a variety of cable channels such as Bravo, TNT and Food Network.

"With this campaign, what we're trying to do is to remind [viewers] what made Carnival so successful for 40-plus years, and hopefully do that in a way that is very emotional, and credible and believable," Carnival's chief marketing officer, Jim Berra, said last week.

Pete Johnson, executive creative director at Arnold Worldwide, the Boston-based ad agency that conceived and developed the commercials, said that the use of amateur photos and videos from past passengers is a key aspect of the messaging.

"We found [that] those looking to book a cruise are much more likely to listen to recommendations from previous cruisers," Johnson said. "There's a level of trust there that can't be fabricated."

The timing of the ads is unusual because by September most 2013 cruises have been booked, but people are not yet looking ahead to 2014 vacations. Fall TV ad campaigns in the past have not been that effective, but Berra said the timing is tied to the larger recovery push.

Carnival is making operational changes, spending on new safety features, opening dialogues with travel agents through the Carnival Conversations program and unveiling a money-back guarantee for consumers.

"All of those efforts, including the campaign, are really designed to expedite the recovery of the brand," Berra said.

Carnival said the $25 million would be spent between now and December on broadcast, radio, digital and direct mail. The "Moments" ads will continue in the first quarter during the Wave season.

In all of 2012, Carnival spent $22 million on marketing, according to the trade publication Advertising Age. That was down from $39 million in 2011 and $66 million in 2010, Ad Age said.

Berra said agents could capitalize on the ads by knowing the Carnival products inside and out.

He said the vacation guarantee is another tool to use, adding that Carnival would unveil a series of promotions in October.

"We're hopeful the campaign will ignite interest, the guarantee will give confidence and then some of the promotional activity will give added incentive," Berra said. "The combination of those actions can be very beneficial to our agent partners in driving and converting more demand."

Berra also revealed that both the 30- and 60-second versions of the ad will feature a call to action suggesting that viewers contact a travel agent.

The 30-second spots will also feature a price point, he said.

Although it is expensive, television advertising is important to brands like Carnival because of its reach, Berra said.

"We're an unapologetically mass-market brand," he said. "We attract more first-time cruisers than any other brand, at least in North America. And so if we want to reignite interest and further recover the brand's perception, it's important that we not only talk to past guests and experienced cruisers but also reach those people who have not taken a cruise."

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.


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