Last updated: 02:30 PM ET, Wed July 27 2016

Cruise Marketing: From Travel Posters to Social Media

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Cunard Line | Jason Leppert | July 27, 2016

Cruise Marketing: From Travel Posters to Social Media

 Image courtesy of Cunard Line 

The evolution of cruise travel marketing is an interesting journey. As long as there have been passenger vessels, there has been a need to attract paying customers, and the approaches have varied over the years from analog to digital. And as always, what goes around comes around.

Long before social media, classic companies like Cunard Line (pictured above) and Holland America Line relied on paintings and graphic design to convey the grandeur of their ocean liners. Of course, back then cruising as we know it today didn’t exist. Posters advertised passenger vessels as a means of transportation, luxurious but simple transit nonetheless.

 READ MORE: The Role of Nostalgia in Modern Cruise Shipping 

The most famous example of such a print has to be A.M. Cassandre’s Art Deco depiction of the Normandie, its imposing bow looming high above the waterline captured from a head-on perspective displaying its dramatic verticality and grand superstructure behind. The poster image is so iconic that I, as a graphic designer myself, even modeled the logo for my Popular Cruising brand on it with the “U” rendered to resemble the ship’s bold style.

With the advent of high-speed air travel, slower ocean liners began to lose favor, and they needed to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. Enter modern cruising, where the objective was no longer just to get from point A to point B but now to visit several ports along the way in a relaxed manner. As retrofitted ocean liners were superseded by purpose-built cruise ships, the marketing also changed.

If liners were now passé, including the class system they once subscribed to, cruising was to now be defined by equal leisure for all. Imagery shifted away from depictions of the ships themselves and towards portraits of smiling people. Celebrity endorsements even entered the fray as Cathie Lee Gifford famously promoted Carnival Cruise Line back in the 1980s and again today with her signature wine collection now onboard.

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Walk by any travel agency storefront, and you’ll still see posters, but the lifestyle on display is certainly more modern, showcasing younger couples and families as millennials grow as a significant source market. Even more than this, the internet and social media hold sway digitally as there is a shift away from cruise lines promoting themselves to the voice of individual travelers mattering more to potential customers. Marketing is now frequently user generated.

Of course, that doesn’t stop companies from telling their own stories, and nor should it. Commercial campaigns are just noisier than they once were to be heard through the crowd. Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line commercials definitely speak to shorter attention spans. Their images and videos make their way to the small screens of our smartphones or the biggest TImes Square displays in New York.

But perhaps intimate stories will begin to resonate more. Carnival Cruise Line recently released a video telling its tale of family and fun in an unhurried fashion, and it was a refreshing change of pace. Among hipsters, retro also definitely sells. Just as Celebrity Cruises disappointingly ditches its ocean liner specialty restaurants like the SS United States, Crystal Cruises plans to restore and bring the actual namesake ship back into service. And I think they are all on to something.


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