Celebrity Cruises tried to look different from other cruise lines in its new advertising; time will tell if that's enough to attract more customers.
Lisa Lutoff-Perlo has been waiting for years to put a new spin on Celebrity Cruises, the upscale 10-ship line.
After three decades in the cruise industry and an earlier tenure at the brand as senior vice president of hotel operations, Lutoff-Perlo became Celebrity’s president and CEO a little more than a year ago.
“I finally had the opportunity to do what I always thought that Celebrity needed, which was a strong creative campaign and strategy that truly elevated Celebrity and put it in the category and in a way that people understood the brand and what we deliver,” she said. “I’ve felt like that was an opportunity since we transformed the brand with the introduction of the Solstice class, and that was in 2008.”
The line, part of Royal Caribbean Cruises, had just announced the order of two 2,900-passenger ships for delivery in 2018 and 2020 when Lutoff-Perlo was promoted. She knew she wanted to position the brand long before those ships started taking shape.
Celebrity chose San Francisco ad agency Venables Bell & Partners to create a new brand campaign, which launched Monday. The line’s “Modern Luxury” description and its iconic “X” symbol are both sticking around, though the phrase “Modern Luxury Lives Here” replaces “That’s Modern Luxury” and the “X” appears as an outline surrounding other images.
The campaign’s first ad (see below) will run in 30- and 60-second spots on television in both targeted local markets and national cable channels. It invokes the pool game “Marco Polo” and urges cruisers to “answer the call of modern luxury.”
Lutoff-Perlo spoke to Skift about the new campaign, why she dislikes most cruise advertising, and what modern luxury actually means.
Skift: What’s the message that you’re trying to communicate with this campaign?
Lisa Lutoff-Perlo: It’s different. When you look at these ads, when you see “Marco Polo” and you see the four that are coming, it’s going to be a surprise to you that it’s a cruise ad….One of the things that was concerning to [Venables] is that they looked at the work within the industry and it was all so the same and everybody took the same approach and they were like, ‘Can we even help these brands? Maybe that’s just what the category does.’ Every place you look, everything looks the same.
I’ve been at this for almost 31 years. I’m so sick of the same sameness and all of us showing the same visuals and talking in the same way that I truly believe the real opportunity for Celebrity and the industry is to stop. Just take a deep breath and stop and say how do we articulate what our experience is and who we are as a brand in a very different way that talks about the personality of the brand?
I believe the language you use, the visuals you use, the way you film, the way you think about communicating with the potential guests, or guests of cruising on some other cruise line, or even your own guests is just get out of the clutter and the sameness that you see out there.
The primary goal was to tell our story — not deny that we’re a cruise — but tell it in a way no one is expecting to see and focus on things that people don’t expect you to focus on.
And for me, that was the real catalyst for what we wanted to do….I didn’t want a campaign that looked like the others. I didn’t want a campaign where all we were doing was showing shots of people on board our ships doing things just like everybody else. I wanted something that said hey, Celebrity’s kind of cool, Celebrity’s different, Celebrity does it in a different way and that’s what this campaign was designed to do.
So the fact that it’s a little different while telling our story, for me, is the true magic of what it is. And honestly the way it was shot is beautiful. It is shot in like cinematography….Now the proof will be with the campaign and how powerful it is in the marketplace and how consumers react to it. But as I’ve seen it, I think that initially it will be different, but I believe this is going to work really hard and truly do a nice job for Celebrity and make us look and appear different than all the rest.
Skift: Is there a new demographic you’re trying to attract with this messaging?
Lutoff-Perlo: You know, I have to say no. I was here at Celebrity for seven years and then I went to Royal Caribbean and now I’m back. And ever since we launched the Solstice class, we’ve been looking for an affluent vacationer who’s discerning and who wants the experience that we provide.
I think we had mixed success in finding the people that we have consistently said all along we believe Celebrity is the right brand for. I think for as long as I’ve been in sales and marketing, your best opportunity to do that is how you present yourself, and so I believe that we’re not going after anyone different than we’ve been going after since the launch of the Solstice.
I believe all we’re doing is now we’re finally doing it the right way with the right messaging and the right presenting our brand in a different way that resonates more with the people that we’ve been targeting for seven or eight years.
Skift: When people think about luxury, they often think about smaller ships, fewer crowds, kind of an inclusive product. What does modern luxury mean to Celebrity and how is this campaign helping to communicate what that means?
Lutoff-Perlo: So that is the really important distinction and why we’ve never called ourselves luxury and why we’ve always called ourselves modern luxury. Because we’ve never been any of the things that you mentioned, those three things: all-inclusive, small, and very few people. We have ships that hold anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 guests.
But for us, modern luxury is approachable, it’s discerning, it’s sophisticated without being stuffy. It’s not pretentious and it is fun. It’s energetic, and when you see the work, that’s how we’re presenting ourselves. When you see the work, you will never think that this is a luxury product. You will think this is kind of a cool, modern luxury product.
We’ve been presenting ourselves in a non-luxury way for awhile. I think the emphasis from us — probably outside of even the creative work that we’re doing — is the experiential work we’re doing on board. We’re now taking more of a focus on the word modern. We’re dialing up the word modern.
So for example, I think you might know if you follow the industry, follow us anyway, we just got rid of formal night. One of the things the first things I wanted to do when I got back was get rid of formal night on Celebrity because a modern luxury experience doesn’t have formal night.
We added a rooftop terrace, so we’ll be doing movies under the stars. For Celebrity, if we’re going to put a screen on any of our decks, it’s not going to be by the pool where all of our guests are on sea days and we’re showing high-energy games or movies or whatever it is or television channels. We’re going to do it in a way that’s more modern luxury in a space that we’re calling our rooftop terrace where we have resort-style furniture, and we have food and beverage combined with great movies and we have a whole series. And we provide our guests kind of this upscale sophisticated intellectual experience on our deck that isn’t just a big screen by the pool like everybody else.
So we’re very purposeful about the things we do both in how we’re working creatively and how we’re building our experience and even how we’re adding new experiences.
Skift: What is the reason for the timing of rebranding? Are there economic conditions that come into play or the state of the overall industry or is it just the fact that you thought this was what needed to happen for a long time and now you’re in a position to make it happen?
Lutoff-Perlo: Yup, just what you said. There’s no other reason.
Listen, we’re getting ready for Edge, Project Edge. We’re building new ships that are coming out in 2018. And the reason for the timing, whether it was late last year or early this year, is because I believed that it needed to start sooner rather than later. It’s something that I, the day I walked into this office, I knew I wanted to do. It takes a while to make that decision: think about the agencies, go through the whole process, develop the work, as you know none of that happens overnight.
But for me, the sooner the better because now we’re really starting to build our brand in a powerful way as we lead up to the launch and introduction of Edge. So for me, that’s why the timing was critical. It had nothing to do with anything else other than what I believe the brand has needed, what I want to do for the brand and how I want to build the brand as we lead up to introducing yet another amazing class of cruise ships within the Celebrity fleet.
Skift: And are these concepts that you’re keeping in mind as you’re developing and planning what will be on those ships?
Lutoff-Perlo: Absolutely. And the way we’re positioning the brand and the demand that we want to continue to build and the people that we’re trying to attract to the brand, this is a critical time to do that with enough time before we actually announce Edge.
Skift: People talk about the ship as the destination. But then on the flip side, your sister brand Azamara has found a lot of success in focusing on the type of excursions they do and land-based experiences. Which direction does Celebrity want to go in, the ship-as-a-destination direction or the special-land-experience direction? Or are you trying to look at both?
Lutoff-Perlo: I actually believe that Celebrity is the best experience for both because I’ve always said, again for a little over a year that I’ve been here, not only does Celebrity, I think, deliver destination in an extremely compelling and wonderful way, probably the best in the industry, but how we take people there is equally as compelling.
And I believe the combination of the two is the most powerful combination. We’ve added more overnights, more double overnights, we have a triple overnight in St. Petersburg, we’ve added all of these signature events, all of our uniquely Celebrity shore excursions. And we’ve got these beautiful boutique hotels sailing all over the world.
So as far as I’m concerned, whether I was the president and CEO of this brand or not, I believe Celebrity has the best of both worlds, and for me that’s the most powerful proposition you can have.
Skift: A lot of lines have tried to reach first-time cruisers through partnering with well- known commodities like celebrity chefs or Broadway shows or whatever. I know Celebrity had a partnership with Project Runway last year. I don’t know if that was an effort to reach new audiences or if there are other kind of strategic branding alliances that you’re looking at moving forward, especially to attract first-timers.
Lutoff-Perlo: Well, we’re always looking at that, to be perfectly honest with you, and a lot of companies are calling us and we’re thinking about different brands to align ourselves with.
Many years ago, Celebrity aligned itself with Apple and had our iLounges and sold Apple products on board. We became the first Apple reseller at sea. We had Top Chef, a great partnership with them, a great integration with them. We did an integration with Project Runway that was powerful and put us in front of a different audience and a new audience and showed off our ship and did a really nice job for our brand.
We have Canyon Ranch spas aboard our ships. So we already have some pretty powerful partnerships as it relates to how people should perceive Celebrity based on the people that we partner with and we will continue to do that.
At the end of the day, for me there’s no brand more powerful than your own. Some of these things are nice to add a little bit of credibility or cachet in your brand, but for me, as much as Canyon Ranch is a wonderful experience, I think any spa that we had on board would deliver a great experience.
It’s really the sum of the parts that’s the most important and that’s why your brand always needs to shine through as the strongest of any of those. So you have to be a little careful too when you look at either co-branding or bringing on partners, you always want your brand to be the strongest because that’s at the end of the day what you’re selling and what you have to preserve at all costs.
So we’ll continue to look at it, we’ll do it where it makes sense and where we think it can improve our business or our guest experience, but it’s not a big focus or priority of the brand.
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Photo credit: New advertising from Celebrity Cruises invokes the childhood game "Marco Polo." Celebrity Cruises