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Cruise Line Ad Campaigns

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New marketing data shows that price is the number one concern of potential cruise buyers.

The New York Times is reporting that Carnival Cruise Line has a new ad campaign showing the advantages of a cruise over several different types of land-based vacations.

One ad shows a couple on a camping trip stuck in a car while a bear and a wildcat rock it back and forth.

Here is the ad:

Another ad shows a woman getting an overly-affectionate “bear-hug” from an uncle.
Royal Caribbean is also starting a new ad campaign called “The Sea is Calling” where the focus is less on the onboard experience and more on the ocean. This replaces the “Get Out There” and “Nation of Why Not” campaigns that Royal used predominately the last few years.

Both campaign are focused at “cruise rookies,” according the Times article quoting Carnival’s James Berra, chief marketing officer at Carnival. I can’t help noticing this term has replaced the phrase “cruise virgins” as the common term used under former CEO Bob Dickinson.

The Times notes that 76-percent of the U.S. population has still not taken a cruise, according to CLIA metrics. The Times also cites statistics from market research firm Mintel noting that the primary deal breaker for 33-percent of the population is fear that the base cost of a cruise vacation is too high.

High cost as a main concern is a somewhat surprising development that has not received much attention before. The follow-up concerns have garnered more attention in the past; 26-percent fear hidden costs, 18-percent fear the ship will be too crowded, 14-percent think the cabins will be too small and 13-percent still think cruises are “too regimented.” These are the same concerns the cruise industry has almost always faced.

My question is, “Are cruises really priced too high or is that a misperception?” The answer depends on whether you are asking cruise experienced people, or people who have never cruised before (cruise rookies). When a cruise-experienced person cites high prices as the main deterrent from taking a cruise it means they really can’t afford to go – not that they are misinformed about cruise prices, so the price is actually too high.

I definitely meet far more cruise experienced people these days than I have met in the past. At a recent gathering of my high school friends, now most of them in their 50s now, many of them told me they had been on cruises and enjoy them. That indicates to me that they know the true prices of cruises, but that they currently find them to be too high.

However, a look at Mintel’s information gathering procedures tends to show the research is based on random sampling (meaning a majority of cruise rookies) – not necessarily on people who are informed on average cruise prices.

This indicates the cruise lines are truly targeting cruise rookies in their ads. The new Carnival ads infer that prices are competitive with land vacations (starting as low as $300, for example). The Times also says many of the ten or so new ads will also show people relaxing in roomy staterooms, not crowded into regimented activities; so all of the major cruise concerns are being addressed.

But the ad shown above has just two simple but distinct messages – that cruises are true vacations, in the sense of relaxation, and that they are cheaper than one might expect.

But how many cruises really start at $300? These days the average cruise is seven days and includes a balcony cabin. Add in port charges, taxes and onboard costs and you are more likely to go over $1000 per person, even if the vacationer drives to the cruise.

The More Important Message
The most revealing aspect of the numbers above is that the percentages of people with any negative impressions about cruising seem to be lower overall. For the most part it seems that most Americans would like to try a cruise and that the well-known “cruise misconceptions” cited above after “cruises are too expensive” have become far less prominent than in the past.

So, with cost becoming the new top concern it is logical (as the Times article reports) that these new ad campaigns are targeted to regional populations within five hours drive time of a cruise port. This indicates that more people are saving money by driving to cruises than ever before, and that home-porting cruise ships in various markets throughout the United States, rather than focusing most of them in Florida as was common ten years ago, is now an integral aspect of the cruise business.

For example, New York is now a major year-round cruise port with regular sailings by Royal Caribbean (Explorer of the Seas), Carnival (Miracle) and Norwegian (Gem, Jewel and Pearl) scheduled to cruise from there even in the dead of winter next year. Further New York options include Celebrity Solstice to the Caribbean and Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 offering transatlantic cruises. Autumn cruises out of New York are also especially popular in 2012; September through late October, with many additional ships from Holland America and Princess.

The upper East Coast has become segmented with Baltimore as another popular cruise port for all of the Maryland, Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia market. Surprisingly, Philadelphia foundered as a cruise port even though the city worked desperately hard to foster its reputation as a cruise city.

So – what is the bottom line?

“The price is too high” as the primary concern is an affirmation of what Carnival reported in its last quarterly report; that the economy is still bad and that the expected recovery in cruise prices is no more a certainty now than it was a year ago. Cruise prices are still at historic lows as the cruise lines struggle to fill the many new ships that have been built in the last decade in addition to the many older ships still in service.

But is advertising a base price of $300 for a cruise compared to a land vacation a good strategy? It will certainly entice people to call – but will they book?

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Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time December 27, 2011 at 6:31 am

I applaude the new Carnival ad campaign. It is essentially what the industry has been hammering to prospective passengers for years. It is insightful, and I trust will bring the new “rookies” to Carnival, or, may entice passsngers that may be long overdue for their next cruise.

Comment from Dave Beers
Time December 27, 2011 at 9:39 am

$300 will get you a 3 or 4-night cruise, although there are exceptions where you can find something longer for that price. Personally I do not like 3-night cruises since they fly by so quickly. I suppose if I lived in or near south Florida I’d have a different opinion.

I’ve had ‘cruise rookies’ ask me if they should try a 3-night cruise first, to see if they liked it. My advice has always been that they should go with no less than 4 nights, and that they should seriously consider 7 nights, even for the first time. Otherwise they really don’t have enough time to understand the dynamics of cruising.

So it would seem Carnival is looking at putting the rookies on those short cruises, or more likely using the $300 as a lure so they can up-sell them to a more substantial cruise.

Comment from Rob
Time January 2, 2012 at 5:20 am

Its mis-leading to even mention a $300 cruise. There is no
such cruise. Port costs, taxes, excursions, specialty restaurants, drinks, child care, air fare, port parking and tipping all or not part of that price point. Cruising is still a fair value but not as good as it used to be. Lets also not
forget about the hidden fuel surcharge they can add at anytime to your existing booking. If the cruise lines honestly marketed that $300’cruise it would be sold at a much higher price point.

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