Be it a cruise marketing strategy, tactic or stroke of good fortune, here are my picks for the top ten greatest marketing moments in cruise history.

#1 The Love Boat– Premiering on ABC September 17, 1976 in the pre-cable world of only three major networks, new couples getting together in the ocean moonlight was good entertainment for mainstream America. Since the show the cruise industry has grown ten times over.  The former owner of Princess Cruises estimated The Love Boat generated over a billion dollars in revenues for the cruise lines. According to my wife, “Oh, The Love Boat!” is still a frequent response when you tell people you work on a cruise ship.

#2 The Carnival Funnel – In 1968 Canadian Pacific (CP) needed a new corporate logo to communicate its direction, global capability and stability.  The result was dubbed the “multimark.” Having been painted on the Empress of Canada’s funnel, the ship and design were transferred in February 1972 to a young former NCL marketing executive, Ted Arison.  Renamed the Mardi Gras the ship became Carnival's first.  By rounding the edges and changing the CP logo’s colors to a festive red, white and blue the multimark morphed into the most distinctive image at sea and a corporate logo recognized worldwide.  Visually communicating the Fun Ships concept it sends the message “these ships are unique” and signals the delivery a branding promise that has directed the company's marketing strategy for three decades.

#3 Voyager of the Seas - In 1999 the first of five Voyager class ships was a revolution in design, size and on-board amenities.   The 137,000-ton, 3,114-passenger vessel featured an ice-skating rink, inline-skating track, basketball court, mini golf course and rock-climbing wall spanning the back of the ship's funnel. These amenities became a brand signature for Royal Caribbean and were leveraged in the long running "Get Out There" advertising campaign. The ship and campaign opened the cruise market to new vacationers who had an "explorer" mind-set.

#4 Cunard - On July 4, 1840 the paddle-wheeled Cunard steamer Britannia left Liverpool and crossed the Atlantic with a cow on-board to supply fresh milk to passengers.  Over the next 120 years Cunard was the epitome of glamorous transatlantic travel.  Between 1920 and 1940 Cunard’s rich and famous passengers were seen enjoying trips on theatre newsreels throughout the United States and Europe.  The 1950's renewed that tradition and “Getting There is Half the Fun” was experienced by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and even the Queen Mother in 1954.  Any ship you sail today still carries an aire of that heritage.

#5 Cruise Critic - Word-of-mouth promotion has always been the best marketing tool for Cruise Lines.  Until Cruise Critic launched as part of America Online in 1995 a travel agent’s statement was about the only way for a prospective cruiser to hear recommendations. Today, consider the experience of Tina Dacin.  "She had not taken a vacation in 20 years and…conducted most of her research online. Eventually, she found the Regent Web site and began visiting online cruise forums on which people discussed their experience on Regent. 'As I got online, I discovered that people were passionate about their Regent cruises,' she said. That electronic word-of-mouth led her to book a Mediterranean cruise on the Seven Seas Voyager with her mother. She liked the experience so much, she said, that she plans to cruise again."

#6 Block Booking – the practice of selling out blocks of cabins (or occasionally even an entire cruise ship) contributes a significant portion of revenue to each sailing.  Whenever you cruise a contemporary line you can’t help but notice the groups formed by anything from corporate sales award winners to fans of a particular rock star.  In speaking with them you find their loyalties are to the group, not the cruise line (they sail with whomever the group sails).  Nevertheless the industry today wouldn’t be the same without them.  The practice reached mass acceptance in the late 1990’s with chartered sales by booking agents at Thomson Travel of Great Britain.  Wherever the idea was first generated, it was a brainstorm.

#7 Cathy Lee Gifford – Love her or hate her, in 1984 (one year prior to "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee") she was singing, "In the morning, in the evening, Carnival's got the fun..." This was the first time a cruise line advertised on national network television and the spots showcased Carnival ship’s dancing, dining, entertainment, playing, socializing, sunning, swimming and fun. The Carnival-Gifford partnership lasted into the mid-1990s and Carnival’s growth greatly outpaced its competitors over that same period.

#8 Freestyle Cruising – No matter how you feel about formal nights and open seating, NCL made a bold break from the traditional cruise model in 2000.  Freestyle Cruising emulated land-based resorts by permitting guests to dine when and with whom they wanted – and in doing so made a daring move to acquire market share from new guests who had resisted cruising before. “No tux required” is a pitch that resonates with Norwegian’s target demographic - “passengers in their mid-40s earning $80,000 a year and who have an individual streak.”

#9 Expanded Home Ports - The jet airline killed transatlantic passenger travel and nearly took out the cruise business, until the discovery of cruising the Caribbean from Florida.  So ultimately what nearly took cruising away gave it back in the form of passengers flown to Miami from across the U.S.  However, when the number and size of ships grew larger than what daily flights into Miami and Ft. Lauderdale could accommodate market expansion required finding new ports.  Coupled with post 9-11 concerns about flying and working to reduce overall airfare costs by shortening distance, the addition of home ports across the nation (and indeed the world) has worked to further expand the market and expose new cruisers to the experience.

#10 Casinos on-board – Today’s number one on-board revenue source on most ships is the Casino. Yes, even ahead of the liquor sales.  But prior to the 1980's only a small minority of ships had casinos and those that did had them relatively hidden.  Now the gaming and cruise industries occasionally hire managers across industries and NCL's 50% owner Apollo Management also owns Harrah's Casinos. Most importantly, the low entry “all inclusive” prices that make cruising an obtainable and affordable value are in part thanks to the ship's players.


Updated 12/17/08.  Some additional and significant cruise marketing moments were neglected in my original post and are now included below.

10.1   The “Big Red Boat” and family cruising - In 1984 Premier Cruise Lines became the first cruise line to operate out of Port Canaveral, Florida and in doing so also ingeniously located its ships approximately 45 minutes east of the “The Magic Kingdom.”   Premier Cruise Lines brought the entire family together onboard in a strategic way by adding year round family programming, over 30 child counselors on every voyage and large public rooms devoted to different children's age groups.  Moreover, as the "official cruise line of Walt Disney World," passengers could combine a 3 or 4 night round-trip cruise with a complimentary Disney World vacation to complete a 7 day family vacation.  The concept was so successful it eventually spurred the idea within Disney management to create its own cruise line.  Other competitors also followed in pursuit of the lucrative family market segment.

SS Norway.  Photo by Barry Vaudrin

SS Norway. Photo by Barry Vaudrin

10.2  The “Ship Amongst Ships”  - on April 14, 1980 after $80 million in renovations NCL re-christened the SS France the SS Norway.  Built in 1962 she was the “last purposely designed year-round transatlantic super-ship” and at 316 meters she was also the longest passenger ship until the RMS Queen Mary 2 in 2004.  The re-christening symbolized the industry's final shift from an era of transatlantic travel into one of Caribbean style cruising. With a passenger capacity of 2,000 the SS Norway became both the largest cruise ship and the first super-liner employed exclusively for cruise service.  She gained a large and avid following among Caribbean cruisers and gave credence to the notion of a ship being a destination in itself.  Her size, amenities (the first cruise ship to add broadway-style entertainment) and popularity permanently changed the cruise industry and helped usher in a construction spree as competitors began to order bigger and larger ships.