Fun becomes a character, not a characteristic, in new Carnival Cruise spots

A talking umbrella drink, beach ball and even jorts tell vacationers why Carnival embodies fun.

Fun is a word that Carnival Cruise Line Chief Marketing Officer Kathy Mayor likes to use—a lot.  It’s central to the brand, the customer experience, and the star of a new campaign beginning today. 

"It's very hard not to have fun when you're selling not only a fun product, but also a very fun brand with a very fun brand voice," said Mayor.  

Arnold Worldwide brings the fun of the Carnival Cruise experience to life in a series of 15-and 30 spots through testimonials of sorts. Objects witnessing the passenger enjoyment do the talking in the ads, which are running regionally on TV and nationally online. An umbrella and a cherry floating in a pina colada, a beach towel, a beach ball, a coconut and even a pair of jorts extol the exhilarating attributes of a Carnival Cruise—like SkyRide bicycles, Carnival’s on-board WaterWorks park and endless white sand beaches. 

"Whether or not you think you’re a cruiser, if you step aboard a Carnival ship, it’s an immediate jaw drop," said James Bray, EVP and ECD at Arnold. "Like, Buddy the Elf, when he visits NYC for the first time, or Olaf when he dreams about summer, we wanted to capture that unbridled surprise, awe and innocence that everyone experiences."

The ads showcase the range of experiences offered by the cruises, which Mayor stresses, are big enough to accommodate all walks of life. "True fun comes when you're really being yourself," she said. "You can have a different interpretation of what fun is. If I want to participate in the activities, I will. If I don’t, I won’t. We make it very comfortable and easy to do that."

Carnival has steadily stuck to that theme in its advertising for the past few years. Last year, the brand enlisted YouTube influencers, like the Eh Bee family, who documented their cruise experience in 11 videos that gathered more than 4.4 million total views on Facebook and YouTube, according to a company spokesperson. Although the new ads lack internet star power, their objective is still the same, Bray said, to reveal "a vacation where you’re free to have the most fun possible."

But in 2013, something decidedly not fun happened on a Carnival Cruise. A fire knocked out power on a ship in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving the 4,000 passengers to smell their own excrement because there were no flushing toilets. Media outlets like CNN dubbed it the "poop cruise," and after the incident, Carnival’s ad spending declined by more than half—from $52.9 million that year to $16.7 million in the first three quarters of 2016, according to Kantar Media.

Mayor, who joined the company last year, said no singular event prompted the ad spend decrease. Instead, she said, Carnival chose to focus its efforts on digital and regional buys, especially since "50 percent of the US population is within a five-hour drive to our ports."

This new campaign debuts during wave season, a three-month period when cruise companies offer the best deals. It also follows the unveiling of a new "Ocean Medallion" wearable program at CES in Las Vegas. This device records each passenger’s likes and dislikes to personalize their travel experience. It unlocks cruisers’ room doors, orders customized drinks and serves as a credit card on board.

"What we offer from both hardware and software on the ship, but also in our unique tone and brand voice is unique because we don't take ourselves too seriously," Mayor said. "We can have a little fun, not only in what we offer, but in how we talk to you."

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