7 Ways Cruise Lines Have Used Pop Culture To Market Themselves


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Marketing To Course Direct From Fear

COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on the travel industry and in particular, has done massive damage to cruise lines.  The damage goes well beyond that of the lost bookings and having had to shut down for an extended amount of time.  The damage that brand marketers in the cruise industry are going to have to figure out how to recover and rebuild from is from a consumer point of consumer fear that the ships are safe.

There is now a deep rooted psychological fear as stories in the news surrounding the start of the spread of COVID-19 showcased ship after ship becoming hotbeds of contagion and death. For core cruisers, those baby boomers or that even older 75+ demographic, the damage may be too long lasting as fear of getting sick by this, or even the next virus, is not going to go away overnight. But the industry will recover, and it can take lessons from cruise competitors who have created successful past marketing campaigns, and target to a younger less fearful consumer.  In this blog, Hollywood Branded dives into 7 ways cruise lines have used pop culture to market and differentiate themselves using product placement, branded content and celebrities.

How Cruise Lines Are using Pop Culture To Market Themselves

Kelly Clarkson & The Norwegian Encore: Talk Show + Celebrity Endorsement

One way that cruise lines are exploring pop culture is using celebrities to engage customers. Some cruise ships utilize celebrities and invite them to become the godparents of specific cruise ships. This is an old maritime tradition in the cruise industry going all the way back to the 1800s.

Norwegian’s President and Chief Executive Officer Andy Stuart appeared on Kelly Clarkson’s new nationally syndicated daytime show, produced and distributed by NBCUniversal, to invite her to join the Norwegian Cruise Line family as godmother to Norwegian Encore. According to Norwegian Cruise lines.com “The honor is bestowed to an individual who serves as the central figure in the Christening Ceremony, which will take place in November. Clarkson will remain Norwegian Encore’s godparent for the vessel’s entire life.”

And her talk show?  It too continued to market the partnership for the entire first season of the talk show series.

In celebration of becoming a new godmother, Clarkson and Norwegian Cruise Lines used Clarkson’s talk show platform to reveal this partnership. Clarkson had invited 20 admirable music teachers to be guests on her show to tie in to the them.  Plus the fact that Clarkson’s own mom was a teacher which is why she has such a special place in her heart for educators. During the taping of the show, the teachers were joined by the people they had a big impact on during their careers. Being the godmother that she is, Clarkson, then gifted all the educators a cruise on the Norwegian Encore.

Check out the segment below.

Some other celebrity cruise godparents include Kristin Chenoweth and Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas, Royal Princess and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Pitbull, and Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Escape.  Even and The Rockettes troupe shared the title for Norwegian Breakaway.

Celebrity Endorsement Deal Case Studies That Made Sales Happen Video

Goop & Celebrity Cruises: Custom Celebrity Cruise 

Another way celebrities are used to market cruise ships are from celebrity brands hosting - and marketing - a trip.

Gwenyth Paltrow decided it was time to take action in creating a wellness-themed cruise, Goop at Sea. Paltrow partnered with Celebrity Cruises to design a cruise inspired by Goop for the wellness-obsessed aboard the Celebrity Apex ship. This partnership between Paltrow’s lifestyle brand and Celebrity Cruises carries the same health and wellness approach but to a new audience of travelers. The first trip was to leave from Barcelona on August 26, 2020 for an 11-night vacation traveling through Spain, France, and the Italian Riviera.

goop at sea

Goop announced that attendees can look forward to “meeting our roster of trailblazing healers, take part in transformative sessions across mind, body, and soul, and hear intimate conversations with GP & Elise — plus plenty of surprises."

Cruisers will also get the chance to meet with Paltrow as well as Goop’s chief content officer, Elise Loehnen, and enjoy delicious meals by Goop’s food editor.  Paltrow said in a statement "with Goop at Sea, we'll be invoking that adventurous spirit with a series of transformative experiences led by a few of our most-trusted wellness practitioners and healers."

This will be the first time the ship has ever gone out to sea - which makes it a massive publicity launch.  Attendees are assured that there will be plenty of goopified activities and amenities to be announced. According to Forbes, “The retreat promises to help participants begin to de-stress, enhance relationships and improve mind-body connections—and to provide them with tools to help them feel more centered once they’re back home.”

Watch the Video

Shaq & Carnival Cruises: Celebrity Endorsed Marketing Campaign + More

Some cruise lines take it further and invite a celebrity to become part of the whole cruise line team - and their entire TV marketing campaign.

Carnival Cruise lines named Shaquille O’Neal the CFO but the F is not for financial, its stands for Fun. Shaq’s role came to fruition with appealing video content, paid social media and experiential activations.

Shaq had never been on a cruise ship before so he did not know what to expect. When he got on the ship for the first time he said he was “blown away. I never knew it was that fun. I just thought it was a bunch of rooms.” That's pretty authentic coming from someone just named the "Chief Fun Officer."

When O'Neal talked about the new Carnival Horizon that launched he used the phrase 'Whoo-Whee!' and even spelled it out for emphasis. Carnival Cruise line president, Christine Duffy, said "we are very excited to have Shaq as part of the Carnival team! He will serve as a great partner ensuring everyone knows all about our one-of-a-kind brand of fun. We're confident that his embodiment of our brand values will inspire America to Choose Fun and discover the authentic, participatory and social atmosphere that Carnival offers."

As the CFO (Chief Fun Officer) and part of the partnership, Shaq (or ahem, the marketing team) comes up with some interesting ideas, and the crazy part is everyone listens. His newest latest and greatest idea is building a chicken eatery on board called Big Chicken. He has already opened this exact restaurant in Las Vegas and plans to open more locations in Los Angeles and Atlanta. However, Big Chicken will be debuting this year on the Carnival Radiance ship. The restaurant counter will have chicken sandwiches, chicken strips or fried chicken baskets for lunch or dinner. There will also be side dishes on the menu like french fries, potato salad, and jalapeño slaw. Shaq, of course has thought of it all. If you want to have breakfast there, you can enjoy a breakfast of chicken biscuits, a three-cheese omelet or our biscuit/egg combo with bacon or sausage.

Talk about making sure your celebrity endorsement deal truly is 360.

Check out this blog "Brands Naming A Chief Officer Is A Trendour team wrote that includes more detail on Shaq's partnership with Carnival.

Carnival Big Chick

Thrillist & Carnival Cruise Line: Branded Content Series

Carnival Cruise Line and Thrillist, a travel and entertainment recommendation site, teamed up to launch “Island Hoppers,” a new mobile series. This is a comedy competition show that takes place out in the ocean. The goal of the show is to find the cruise line's next comedy star to perform at its shipboard Punchliner Comedy Clubs. The series featured travel destinations visited by Carnival Cruises and then distributed on Thrillist's Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter channels.

The first season consisted of seven episodes hosted by actor, James Van Der Beek, who said “I’m not really a host, and I’m definitely not a stand-up. But this show is so unique I feel like that worked in our favor. As a writer and actor, I have a huge appreciation for what it takes to get up in front of a room full of strangers and make people laugh, so it was a joy to jump in and play with a group this talented and hilarious.”

Carnival decided to create this as a strategic marketing technique and an innovative way to tell their brand’s story. Melissa Anido-Lopez, Carnival’s senior director of media strategy, planning and marketing optimization, talked about how “traditional video ads would not let a marketer show off so many elements of its business.”

The new series was filmed during a recent Caribbean cruise aboard Carnival Horizon. The philosophy is that consumers will be more willing to purchase cruise tickets when they see an innovative campaign as they are steering away from traditional advertising pitches. “This is so natural to the environment that it doesn’t feel so overtly like branded content,” says Jody Rones, Thrillist’s chief revenue officer.

Sony Pictures Animation & Dream Cruises: Co-Promotion

Dream Cruises partnered with Sony Pictures Animation to bring the characters of Hotel Transylvania on board. Both the Genting Dream and the World Dream cruise ships allowed passengers the ability to immerse themselves in the world of the characters in celebration of the release of the third installment of the movie.

Dream Cruises president, Thatcher Brown, said in a statement, “our onboard teams are excited to deliver Dream Cruise vacations where these lovable monsters – as seen in the movie – will come to life. Fun and great entertainment are a big part of what Dream Cruises offers our guests in innovative ways. Our guests will enjoy the privilege to interact with their favorite characters throughout their summer voyage.”

As the passengers sailed on, they had character meet and greets, treasure hunts, themed contests and more. The themed cruises took place for three months around the release of the movie and sailed to Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Malyasia and Thailand.

Dream HT3

During the movie, the monster family takes a cruise adventure which inspired audiences to go on their own cruise for a summer vacation on a fictional cruise ship, Legacy. The movie encapsulates all the joys of cruising from pool games and all you can eat buffets. This family friendly flick is one of many that gets kids excited to cruise. This made for an ideal partnership for Dream Cruises and Sony as the guests were able to sail with the characters.

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Netflix & Royal Caribbean: Product Placement Integration

In the Netflix original, Like Father, starring Kristen Bell, Kelsey Grammer, and Seth Rogen, Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, one of the biggest cruise ships in the world, made a Hollywood debut in 2018.

This movie tells the story of a workaholic advertising executive who is left at the altar and winds up on her Caribbean honeymoon cruise, with her estranged father who is easily just as much of a workaholic. The two leave on their trip as strangers, but over the course of some adventures, cocktails and soul-searching, they return with a transformed gratitude for family and life.

Throughout the movie, there were scenes shot on zip lines, the boardwalk, the tide bar, the royal promenade, and the water slides. All the beauty shots the cruise line's marketing team wanted to ensure was embedded in the content.  To celebrate the film’s release, Royal Caribbean hosted a movie premiere at sea. The event was held across Royal Caribbean’s four Oasis Class Ships including Harmony of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, and Oasis of the Seas.

Carnival Cruising At Home With Ocean Cruises: Owned TV Series

Carnival took the whole branded content partnership even further, and has created seven TV series that air on broadcast TV showcasing travels on board with their series Ocean Originals.

Jeff Corwin with his arms crossed, a cruise ship anchored in a bay surrounded by mountains, Ocean Treks with Jeff Corwin logo

Josh Garcia standing next to a Carnival Cruise ship ready to explore different cultures, foods and drinks The Voyager with Josh Garcia logo

 Vacation Creation

a flaming cocktail, Good Spirits logo, Matthew Biancaniello smiling

Pancho de Anda standing in front of a carnival cruise ship, la grand sorpresa logo

These shows were created to "highlight the wonders of cruising… and ready to prove that it’s the most amazing way to see new places and learn about the world."

The series include Saturday morning series:

  • Ocean Treks™ with Jeff Corwin, 
  • The Voyager™ with Josh Garcia,
  • Vacation Creation

Sunday evening series:

  • Spanish language La Gran Sorpresa featuring Poncho de Anda.

Streaming series:

  • GO™ with explorer Trek Thunder Kelly, 
  • Local Eyes™ featuring Anji Corley
  • Good Spirits

These shows are also available to stream anytime, for free, on Carnival's OceanView app as well as on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku platforms.

Market Your Brand In An Innovative Way

To learn more about how to use pop culture to market your brand, check out these blogs our team has written that dive more deeply into how you can successfully create innovative marketing campaigns:

Want to know if Celebrity Endorsement really does trigger sales? Watch this video below to see real world examples from brands across a wide variety of categories, and the results brand marketers see! 

Celebrity Endorsement Deal Case Studies That Made Sales Happen Video