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Cruise lines are all trying to differentiate themselves as the number of global passengers increases. Branding campaigns and ad blitzes are one way to get that word out, but operators also have to focus on delivering a top-notch experience.

Some of the cruise industry’s biggest players are changing their tunes — and color schemes, font, slogans, and websites.

So far this year, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, and MSC Cruises have updated their taglines or swapped them out altogether; changed iconic symbols; tweaked colors; adjusted fonts; and rolled out new advertising.

The transformations followed leadership changes or accompanied expansion plans — or both. In most cases, companies and agencies spent roughly a year doing consumer research and considering their repositioning. And while cruise companies aren’t sharing exact numbers, most of the rebranding efforts have come with hefty advertising budgets.

For the cruise industry, 2016 looks like a good year for investing in refreshed identities: The Cruise Lines International Association expects the number of global cruise passengers to increase to about 24 million this year, while cruise operators are pouring $6.5 billion into new ocean vessels.

Philip Durbrow, chairman and CEO of the San Francisco branding firm Marshall Strategy, said that with so much cash being spent on new products, cruise businesses need to fight for their slice of the market to get a return on investment.

“If you’re not different from your competitors, then there’s no reason to choose you,” said Durbrow, who has worked on branding for Windstar Cruises and Royal Viking Line. “It doesn’t matter, right? It’s like gasoline or carrots: You’re just a commodity. And when you become a commodity, you kind of have to compete on price because you have nothing else.”

Competing on price, of course, is a game no one wants to play after struggling for years to get customers to pay more for their cruise vacations. Throughout the industry, executives have said they are fighting to avoid last-minute discounts that they have typically used to fill ships and focus on driving more demand through marketing up front.

Here is a rundown of what cruise lines are doing to set themselves apart:

Holland America Line

The 143-year-old cruise line, part of Carnival Corp., launches its first new ship in six years, ms Koningsdam, next month. With a new president in place since December 2014, the brand worked with creative agency Copacino+Fujikado on an updated image through most of 2015. The new campaign kicked off in January.

Holland America, which is known for cuisine, refined mid-sized ships and a long nautical tradition, decided to focus on its classic qualities — but not in a stuffy way.

“It’s impossible to start something that’s classic,” said Joseph Slattery, senior vice president of global marketing and sales. “To be classic, you have to have endured and continued to refine things.”

The oval-shaped logo, which previously included an ocean liner and historic sailing vessel, now just has a more modern ship with an Art Deco sensibility. The typeface is updated and the tagline “Signature of Excellence” — which had been in place for more than 10 years — was replaced with “Savor the Journey.”

And the cruise line is trying to reflect classic-but-modern sensibilities in the product offerings on the new ship, including partnerships with the Lincoln Center, Billboard, and BBC Earth.

“What we’re trying to do is create a lot of variety and entetainment all around that theme of things that are ever popular,” Slattery said.

While the brand did limited television advertising in 2014, a more extensive push is underway on TV through the end of the month. Between television, print, radio, and digital, the company is spending in the “low double-digit millions,” Slattery said.

“We’ve never done anything on the scale of the current campaign, ever,” he said.

MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises — which stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company — is moving away from its prior emphasis on “The Mediterranean Way of Life.” Now, the Geneva-based private company with 69 offices around the world wants customers to know it offers “Not just any cruise.”

The world’s fourth-largest cruise ship company is setting the stage for a more-than-$5 billion expansion plan that includes the addition of seven ships by 2022. The company is also building a $200 million private island in the Bahamas as part of its strategy to become a significant player in North America.

“We need to really make sure that we’re setting our brand apart from everyone else,” said Bonnie Levengood, senior vice president of marketing for MSC Cruises North America.

After “extensive” research in multiple countries, advertising agency McCann Worldgroup came up with the line “Not just any cruise.” Levengood said that phrase was meant to highlight the details that make MSC stand out and appeal to a worldwide audience.

“When we’re coming up with a global slogan, we have to make sure that it resonates with every country,” she said.

New commercials already started running in Italy, Spain, France, and Germany. This summer, the company will start airing different ads in North America that use the new tagline but are more targeted to local customers. MSC is spending seven figures on advertising.

“For us, it’s more of making sure that we have one message that defines us globally and making a mark in North America because  we don’t have enough brand awareness here and we need to grow that,” Levengood said.

The blue color behind MSC’s logo has been lightened as part of an effort to move to more elegant branding. And Levengood said the cruise line also hired a company to make sure that all onboard products — including sheets and robes in staterooms — reflect the new brand.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line unveiled its last campaign in 2011 urging passengers to “Cruise like a Norwegian.” But since then, the Miami-based company has set new global ambitions.

Norwegian will send a new ship to China next year and will call on Australia and Asia for the first time in 15 years. After introducing its newest ship in October, the company has two more slated for delivery in 2017 and 2019. And the parent company and brand both have new leaders in place as of early 2015.

Meg Lee, Norwegian Cruise Line’s chief marketing officer, told Skift earlier this year that the former branding made some potential customers think more about Norway than a cruise line.

“Now that we’re working to expand more rapidly globally, we wanted to make sure that whatever we went to market with would work regardless of country, culture, language, demographic,” she said. “It had to work everywhere for everyone.”

Working with BBDO Atlanta and OMD, Norwegian came up with the tagline “Feel Free.” The phrase evokes the brand’s use of “freedom and flexibility” to describe its model of offering multiple dining and entertainment venues instead of traditional dining rooms with set seating times.

National television spots feature a song from Pitbull, who was godfather of Norwegian’s most recent ship.

“This is an evolution, not a revolution,” Lee said.

While she wouldn’t reveal numbers, Lee said spending on the campaign is “significant” and “a significant increase versus where we’ve been historically.”

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity, part of Royal Caribbean Cruises, kept many of its hallmark  identifiers even though executives were willing to start fresh.

Agency Venables Bell & Partners told the company that it should continue to use “Modern Luxury” as a description, but update the phrase to “Modern Luxury Lives Here.” Celebrity still uses the iconic “X” in its branding, but gives the symbol more prominence.

Celebrity President and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, who was named to the position in December of 2014, told Skift earlier this year that she wanted the line’s TV ads to look different from other cruise commercials.

“I didn’t want a campaign that looked like the others,” she said. “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.”

On its ships, the line is focusing on the word “modern” by getting rid of formal nights, creating rooftop terrace areas with resort-style furniture, and adding movies under the stars with paired food and drinks.

The changes kick in two years before Celebrity’s newest ship — for now known as “Project Edge” — debuts in 2018.

“We’re really starting to build our brand in a powerful way as we lead up to the launch and introduction of Edge,” Lutoff-Perlo said. “So for me, that’s why the timing was critical.”

Durrow, the Marshall Strategy CEO, said it is crucial that lines don’t just limit branding efforts to commercials and taglines.

“It should affect all of your decisions: who you hire, where you go, what you provide,” he said. “All those decisions should be coherently developed so that they reinforce what it is you’re offering.”


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Tags: celebrity cruises, cruise lines, holland america line, marketing, msc cruises, norwegian cruise line

Photo credit: Celebrity is one of several cruise lines that have updated their branding this year. Celebrity Cruises

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