Royal Caribbean changed creative agencies in May, taking its roughly $80 million account away from JWT, with whom it had worked for eight years, and handing it to the newly merged Mullen Lowe group. The result? You tell us.
A release from the agency promises bold new creative "that challenges pre-conceived notions of what it means to go on a cruise." What we get are high-energy music, people diving into water, exotic locales, kids smiling, more people diving into water, a night shot of a ship and the final call to action, "Call your travel agent." Where have we seen this before?
But ocean travel is amazing. Massive cruise ships, when you stop to think about them, are technological and logistical mind-blowers. (This New Yorker piece on food and the cruise industry gives some sense of their enormity.) Humans are hard-wired to respond emotionally to water. But cruise advertising rarely focuses on that emotional connection, or what the cruise really means to travelers.
So why, in a category so ripe with possibility, is the creative product mired in such lazy clichés?
Creatives who’ve worked on cruise accounts point to a common culprit.
"Fear permeates the category. Fear from the top to fill the cabins," said one leading creative who recently worked on a cruise client. The result, he says, is that no one steps back long enough to ask the obvious question: Why do people take cruises?
"Why would I cruise? Because it’s emotional, a chance to escape and be one with where we came from," the creative continued. "It’s too bad. The work in the category could be amazing. Instead, it makes me seasick."
Of course, some version of creativity-stifling fear exists in all retail businesses. Fixed costs like ships and staff must be paid for, so tickets must be sold to stay afloat. For years, the cruise lines have been battling the perception that cruises are solely for "the newly wed, the overfed and the nearly dead," as they say in the business. Hence the ads increasingly hit all the common Millennial signifiers, including shots of tourists engaging in extreme sports and radical declarations that this is not your father’s cruise ship.
"The most important thing is to have supers in a sans-serif typeface so you passive-aggressively scream your strategy to the audience, and your message still gets through when they fast-forward on their DVRs," said a creative director at an agency that pitched the Royal Caribbean business.
Yet somehow it all ends up looking the same. "I don’t think they are brave enough to try something different," said another creative director with cruise client experience. "All the brands are comfortable showing the same shots over and over again."
Care to prove them wrong? Click below to take our quiz. Can you match the cruise brand to its commercial (we’ve removed all logos and other identifying marks)? Use the comments below to let us know how you did. And please, don’t forget to call your travel agent.