The Cunard Line Limited boasted one of the cruise industry’s most storied pasts, having carried the Royal Mail across the Atlantic for England before building one of the grandest and most respected fleets of passenger ships during the early twentieth century. The rise of passenger aircraft, however, all but eliminated the demand for transatlantic ocean travel, and by the turn of the millennium Cunard had a fleet of two ships, only one of which continued to travel the onceprominent route between North America and Great Britain. The world’s largest cruise-ship company, Carnival Corporation, purchased Cunard in 1998; later that year Cunard announced its plan to construct what would be the largest and most luxurious passenger ship of its time, the Queen Mary 2. The ship was slated to make regular transatlantic voyages, which would be evocative of the golden age of ocean travel, as well as select Caribbean, South American, and New England cruises. To build awareness about the new ship preparatory to its January 2004 maiden voyage, Cunard enlisted the New York office of ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day to helm a marketing campaign for 2003.
The campaign, budgeted at an estimated $8 million, began in spring 2003, with the intent of helping Cunard achieve full booking of Queen Mary 2 ’s maiden voyage and 60 percent booking on the rest of the ship’s 2004 trips. Because construction of the ship was still underway, TBWA\Chiat\Day could not showcase the product itself, so the campaign instead conveyed the idea that a Queen Mary 2 voyage was an event worthy of intense anticipation. Print ads used images of overdressed women in everyday situations, such as a stylish mother serving her children breakfast while wearing a ball gown, together with the ‘‘Can You Wait?’’ tagline. To enhance the ship’s upscale allure, the brand names of luxury products and services to be featured on the Queen Mary 2 itself were included in the ads’ copy.
The Queen Mary 2 sold out its berths by July 2003, approximately four months after the campaign began, and the occupancy goals for the ship’s entire 2004 schedule of voyages were exceeded shortly thereafter. The campaign won a Gold EFFIE Award in 2004.
The Cunard Line was established in 1839 as a transatlantic carrier of the Royal Mail from Britain to Canada and the United States, and by the early twentieth century it had expanded to become one of the world’s premier shipping lines. Cunard lost 22 ships during World War I, including the Lusitania, whose sinking by German U-boats while crossing from New York to Liverpool contributed to America’s entrance into the conflict. Transatlantic shipping’s golden age came in the 1920s and 1930s, and Cunard remained a major player in the industry, employing the well-known marketing tagline ‘‘Getting There Is Half the Fun’’ during those years. In 1934 Cunard’s Queen Mary became the first vessel ever launched by a member of the British royal family, Her Majesty Queen Mary (wife of the then-reigning king, George V), and the Queen Elizabeth was unveiled in 1938, named for Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI, who had assumed the throne. Winston Churchill credited his country’s enlistment of these ships during World War II with shortening the conflict by at least a year. By the 1950s Cunard carried one-third of all passengers crossing the Atlantic, but at the end of that decade commercial passenger jets began making the transatlantic journey. Thus began the steady erosion of transatlantic boat travel until, by the late twentieth century, the practice seemed part of history. Though Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2, which was introduced in 1969, continued to make transatlantic voyages, the company went through several changes of ownership and struggled to reinvent itself for a new age. Cunard was purchased in 1998 by cruise-ship giant Carnival, which hoped to leverage the brand’s rich legacy and reputation for luxury in a bid to return the venerable line to profitability. Among the centerpieces of Carnival’s attempt to revive Cunard was the building of the largest and most luxurious passenger ship in existence, the Queen Mary 2, to take over the Queen Elizabeth 2 ’s transatlantic route in addition to making Caribbean voyages. Slated to make its maiden voyage in late 2003, the Queen Mary 2 was intended to appeal to nostalgia for the golden age of transatlantic ship travel while also updating the experience to suit the expectations of modern luxury vacationers. Not only was the Queen Mary 2 being prepared, at great expense, to travel a route that was nearly obsolete, but its construction also coincided with a sharp downturn in luxury travel as a result of a slowing U.S. economy and fears regarding terrorism. Complicating Cunard’s new agenda even further was the fact of serious overcapacity within the cruise industry. After years of consistent fleet enlargement (plans largely put into place before the economic downturn), in the early 2000s cruise lines found themselves forced to cut fares dramatically to attract passengers.
This was not, however, an option for the Queen
Mary 2, which was billed as the jewel not just of Cunard’s fleet but of the entire cruise industry.
Because the Queen Mary 2 represented an occupancy increase of 60 percent for the Cunard fleet (which consisted of two other ships at the time), it was imperative that with the new campaign TBWA\Chiat\Day expand Cunard’s target market not just for the initial months after the ship’s christening but also in the long run. The agency sought out these new customers among wealthy, status-conscious Americans who already owned and had experienced many of the things they wanted in life. Such people, the agency deduced, had traveled widely and frequently traveled outside the United States. Their travels were characterized by a need to take ever more exotic or impressive vacations, at least partly because of the bragging rights this gave them among others in their social class. Though jaded in many ways, this target group still sought out proximity to famous and prestigious people, brands, and experiences. Thanks to its upscale legacy, the Cunard brand had the potential to satisfy the traveling desires of this market, and Cunard augmented its brand strength by partnering with other upscale names, including Veuve Clicquot (the makers of a renowned champagne), Canyon Ranch (a luxury spa company), and Todd English (a Boston-based celebrity chef). This gathering of upscale brands, mentioned in the ads’ copy, was meant to work together with the idea of anticipation communicated by the ads’ imagery and tagline to make a Queen Mary 2 cruise alluring to the status-conscious target.
Cunard mixed traditional and modern in its choice of brand partners as well as in its onboard amenities—for instance, the Queen Mary 2 had a grand staircase and furnishings evocative of the stately ships of an earlier age, and each cabin was outfitted with a high-speed Internet connection. This blend of classic and cutting-edge was a further reflection of the target market’s desires and expectations. While Cunard specifically appealed to consumers’ desire to step back in time to a supposedly more elegant and ceremonious age, these consumers did not want to sacrifice the comfort and convenience available to them in the present.
HOW BIG? HOW MUCH?
Upon entering service in January 2004, the Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 was the largest cruise ship ever built. It was almost as long as four football fields laid end to end, and its above-water height (accommodating 17 passenger decks) was the approximate equivalent of a 23-story building. Unsurprisingly, the Queen Mary 2, whose construction costs reached $800 million, was also the most expensive ship ever built.
Cunard’s corporate parent, Carnival Corporation of Miami, owned many of the top cruise lines in American and European markets during this time, including Princess Cruises, the Holland America Line, and the world’s most popular and profitable cruise brand, Carnival Cruise Lines. Of these brands, Carnival Cruise Lines, which marketed comparatively affordable cruises to a mainstream audience, had by far the highest marketing profile. For decades prior to the turn of the millennium, Carnival had cultivated a positioning as ‘‘The Fun Ships,’’ and in 1985 it used this brand image in the firstever cruise-industry spots to appear on network television. The commercials featured celebrity spokesperson Kathie Lee Gifford (then Kathie Lee Johnson) singing about the Carnival experience. After moving away from this strategy in the late 1990s, Carnival experimented with reality-based advertising in the 2000s before returning to an emphasis on its ‘‘Fun Ship’’ identity. The world’s second-largest cruise company, Miamibased Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., was responsible for perhaps the most noteworthy cruise-industry advertising campaign of the early 2000s. The company offered trips to the Caribbean as well as to Alaska, Europe, and elsewhere. Having indulged significantly in the fleet expansion characteristic of the cruise industry in the late 1990s, and with further expansion planned for the 2000s, Royal Caribbean’s namesake line, Royal Caribbean International, addressed the inevitable need to expand its target market by crafting a new and more vibrant brand image in a long-running campaign tagged ‘‘Get Out There.’’ In an attempt to change the popular notion that cruise vacations were for the elderly, the campaign’s TV spots employed fast-paced cutting between images of adventurous off-ship activities together with the highenergy Iggy Pop rock song ‘‘Lust for Life.’’ This repositioning was considered a success, and the average age of Royal Caribbean customers dropped substantially. The problem of industry overcapacity, however, remained.
‘‘Can You Wait?’’ was budgeted at approximately $8 million. The Queen Mary 2 ’s maiden voyage was firmly scheduled for January 2004 (the preliminary completion date of late 2003 having been revised during the ship’s construction); the marketing campaign accordingly debuted in spring 2003. Its central goals were to generate sufficient awareness to sell out the maiden voyage and to sell 60 percent of the berths for the Queen Mary 2’s entire 2004 schedule. In addition to the difficulties stemming from industry overcapacity and the waning taste for transatlantic ocean travel, TBWA\Chiat\Day faced the challenge of marketing a product that did not yet exist. Though the Queen Mary 2 promised to set an industry standard for grandeur and elegance, it was under construction during the campaign’s run and so could not be used to supply visual examples of that grandeur and elegance.
TBWA\Chiat\Day thus settled on anticipation as the campaign’s controlling theme. Building on the idea that vacationers enjoyed anticipating their travels as much as the travels themselves, the agency employed imagery and copy meant to stimulate desire for the experience of crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 while allowing prospective travelers to imagine the exact nature of the experience for themselves. The resulting print ads ran in trade magazines as well as national consumer magazines owned by Conde´ Nast, including Gourmet, Vanity Fair, W, Bon Appe´tit, Architectural Digest, the New Yorker, and Conde´ Nast Traveler. The consumer ads each featured an image of a woman dramatically overdressed for her commonplace surroundings. One ad, for instance, showed a woman serving breakfast to her children while wearing a full-length ball gown. Another showed a husband and wife in bed, the husband shirtless under the bedcovers and the wife sleeping beside him in a ball gown and high heels. Copy included the ‘‘Can You Wait?’’ tagline, the brand names of Cunard’s luxury-product partners, and the Cunard and Queen Mary 2 logos. Together—and especially as buzz began to build about the Queen Mary 2 —these elements suggested the idea that a voyage on the new ship was an event worthy of anticipation of the highest degree.
As part of the marketing agreement that resulted in the exclusive placement of Queen Mary 2 ads in Conde´ Nast magazines, TBWA\Chiat\Day and the publisher designed promotional events geared to the readership of each title. The campaign also included direct-mail and online components in keeping with the overall theme.
By July 2003 Cunard had sold all 2,620 berths for the Queen Mary 2 ’s January 2004 maiden voyage. This represented the earliest sellout for any voyage in Cunard’s long and storied history, as well as an industry-wide record for the number of berths sold before a ship’s construction had been completed. Bookings for all of 2004 substantially exceeded Cunard’s precampaign goals. Surveys involving readers of Architectural Digest, one of the publications in which the ‘‘Can You Wait?’’ ads ran, revealed that 69 percent of those surveyed recalled the Queen Mary 2 ads; according to the survey results the ads also ranked first among ads in the magazine for attracting and holding readers’ attention. Cunard’s own research supported these findings across the group of publications in which the ads ran. More than 50 percent of passengers booked for 2004 Queen Mary 2 vacations had not previously sailed on a Cunard ship. ‘‘Can You Wait?’’ was awarded a Gold EFFIE Award in 2004 in the Travel/Tourism/Destination category. The EFFIE Awards, one of the most prestigious events in the advertising industry, were hosted annually by the New York American Marketing Association.