Cruise lines unveil new ads to coincide with Wave season

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Norwegian Cruise Line returns to TV advertising with its “Feel Free” marketing campaign.
Norwegian Cruise Line returns to TV advertising with its “Feel Free” marketing campaign.

In the Hot Seat

Meg Lee, Norwegian Cruise Line's chief marketing officer, spoke with cruise editor Tom Stieghorst about the new "Feel Free" TV ad campaign. Read More

As 2016 dawns, cruise lines are set to unleash a raft of new advertising that will refresh their message and remind consumers about cruise vacations on the cusp of the industry’s key booking period.

Wave season, stretching from January to March, accounts for a third of annual cruise bookings at some lines.

Companies from Norwegian Cruise Line to Crystal Cruises have readied new ad messages and picked Wave as the launch window for their efforts. 

Others, while not debuting new messages, are stepping up their game. MSC Cruises has made a big splash with outdoor advertising in New York, including the takeover of a Brooklyn subway station and an electronic billboard display high above Times Square.

Perhaps no company is making a bigger platform out of Wave season this year than Norwegian.

“We’ll be on national television for the first time in a very long time, in a much bigger way than we have been since I started with the company eight years ago,” said Norwegian Chief Marketing Officer Meg Lee.

The company will use TV to debut its “Feel Free” campaign (ad is below), which will replace “Cruise Like a Norwegian” as the main marketing message. The launch culminates seven months of work by Norwegian’s new ad agency, BBDO Atlanta.

The ads will rock to a newly created anthem by Pitbull called “Freedom,” an adaptation of a 1965 Rolling Stones’ song titled “I’m Free.”

National TV requires tens of millions of dollars of spending to be effective, which makes it especially valuable to travel agencies, which can’t muster the resources for TV campaigns.

“This demonstrates our continuing commitment to travel partners and driving business through them,” Lee said.

The same message was delivered by Crystal Cruises President and CEO Edie Rodriguez to a group of top-selling Crystal agents aboard the line’s Crystal Esprit in the Seychelles in December.

She said the luxury line will take to the airwaves with ads for the first time in its 25-year history. The new tagline, “Where all-inclusive is all-exclusive,” will include images of women dressed in haute couture gowns; destinations that Crystal sails to will be their backdrop.

In taking the wraps off the campaign, Rodriguez told the agents one of the goals of television advertising was to “drive business through your doors.” 

The ads began in print on Dec. 22 and will make the jump to television in the coming weeks. “I have a very specific approach to when and how we will launch our first commercial,” she said.

Quiet on the details of a new campaign is Celebrity Cruises, which will be launching a major initiative the second week in January.  Last year, Celebrity’s advertising revolved around “Remember Everything,”  a $16 million campaign that primarily appeared on the Bravo cable network. 

Holland America Line, meanwhile, is retiring “Signature of Excellence” in favor of “Savor the Journey.”

The line will appear on television “for the first time in a long while,” said spokesman Erik Elvejord, in a dozen select markets from Boston to San Diego and occasionally nationwide on the NBC network.

Shows on which the ads will be aired include “60 Minutes,” “The Voice,” “The CBS Evening News,” “The Tonight Show” and “Saturday Night Live.”

Trade advertising that features HAL’s updated logo minus its traditional three- masted tall ship has already begun.

Varied messaging

The emotional messages in new advertising vary with the brand identities of the various lines.

In the third year of a campaign launched in 2014 with $20 million in advertising, Princess Cruises will tempt passengers to “Come Back New” in a series of ads on TV and elsewhere through March.

The Princess ads play on people’s desire for a cruise that leaves them with a new perspective, new friendship, new story or a deeper appreciation of their loved ones.

At Royal Caribbean International, ads will continue to urge passengers to “Come Seek” something different than what they expect from a cruise, the Caribbean or a tourist experience.

The theme debuted in November, when Royal got an early start on its Wave season promotion.

Norwegian’s call to “Feel Free” plays on its longstanding Freestyle Cruising premise that highlights choice and a lack of regimentation. The ads will be very direct, Lee said. “We invite people to have certain feelings, you know: ‘Feel like finding your happy place?’ and then we say, ‘feel free,’” she said.

Crystal is trying to evoke an aura of exclusivity in its ads. Rodriguez chose feminine haute couture as an emblem of exclusivity and aspiration.

“We’re doing all of these brand extensions, so it has to paint that kind of story,” said Rodriguez, referring to Crystal’s push into river cruising, luxury yacht and high-end air-tour products.

“It’s about surprise and delight for the highly affluent,” she said.

MSC Cruises’ TV ads are set to the 1970 hit song “In the Summertime” that has a carefree, live-for-the-moment message. A longer, 60-second ad includes information about 2-for-1 offers. 

MSC Cruises promoted a 2-for-1 balcony sale with a digital outdoor ad high above Times Square in New York.
MSC Cruises promoted a 2-for-1 balcony sale with a digital outdoor ad high above Times Square in New York.

MSC will advertise in New York’s Times Square through March 31, sharing space on an electronic billboard at 43rd and Broadway seen by more than 1 million people a day. Along with a digital outdoor ad during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York, it is a first for MSC, a spokeswoman said.

For dramatic effect, the brand also purchased all the available ad space at a Brooklyn, N.Y., subway stop on Atlantic Avenue beneath the Barclays Center arena from early December to the beginning of January, reaching an estimated 1.3 million people over the four weeks.

The line’s Wave season marketing plans include a promotion with Eataly, the massive Italian marketplace in New York’s Flatiron District, at the upcoming New York Times Travel Show at the Javits Center and a trade oriented campaign with Sabre and Amadeus in which Web banner ads will appear when agents log in to their booking systems.

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