Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

Earlier this year, I wrote about how river cruise lines are starting to take a new approach to marketing, finally getting away from cookie cutter ads and staid images of river cruise vessels gliding past scenic cities in Europe, and embracing new and more innovative forms of storytelling in an effort to break away from the pack.

Now, some lines are taking that concept a step further in a clear attempt to market their product to a younger audience than has traditionally been attracted to river cruising. Not surprisingly, millennial-focused U by Uniworld, which is gearing up to host its first revenue cruises this spring, has taken the most divergent marketing path we've seen so far with river cruise lines as it attempts to engage an entirely new-to-river-cruising demographic - 21 to 45 year-olds.

The new line is relying heavily on social media to get the word out, having recently hosted a  contest for travel agents competing to attend a U by Uniworld preview cruise taking place this fall by submitting marketing videos to the line via Facebook. To get a sense of what tomorrow's river cruiser is looking for, it's actually an amusing exercise to check out some of the winning clips.

I have watched them all (I know, get a life, right?) and here is a sampling of a few standouts that give a sense of what we're looking at when it comes to marketing river cruises to millennials: Aaron Caplan, VacayVibes; Caroline Hollar, Gifted Travel Network; and Lisa Vermaak, BluSkyy Travel. The music in that last one is somehow both excruciating and catchy.

U by Uniworld has taken that contemporary marketing ethos and converted into its own marketing material that emulates the youthful vibe it is going after. A perfect example can be found in the line's most recent Facebook video. What strikes me are the graphics (a playful approach to a promo that I haven't seen done with river cruising to date), upbeat music and a video emphasizing style, value and fun.

Perhaps not to the same degree, but Avalon Waterways can also be credited for its ongoing effort to reshape the way river cruises are being marketed and increasingly gearing its messaging to a slightly younger demographic as well. Earlier this month, the river cruise line launched it latest series of TV ad spots, featuring an attractive middle-aged woman who according to the ads prefers to "forge her own path" and take "the road less traveled."

She is seen on various adventures, including kayaking with her partner down a river, and picnicking among vineyards with bikes. Agents can access the ads and related marketing material on Avalon's travel agent portal.

While the goal is the always the same, to ultimately resonate with potential travelers and hopefully steer them towards booking a river cruise, as river cruising looks to expand its reach and attract younger passengers, the approach is definitely getting more varied and interesting.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI