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Celebrity Cruises: Bringing the Cuisine of the Seas Close to Home

10/31/2013 06:39 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • Lin Humphrey Assistant Professor of Marketing at Ithaca College; 2011 Global Mobile Marketing Academic of the Year

Most cruise line executives cite overcoming misperceptions of the cruise vacation as one of their key marketing challenges. One common myth they battle is that a cruise is the equivalent of a Las Vegas buffet (muu-muus and mai tais). Over the last couple of years, one line set out to prove this image wrong in a big way; Celebrity Cruises -- a premium line that portrays itself as modern luxury for its culinary options (and the choice of "Foodie" cruisers) -- opted for a unique way to revise these perceptions by launching pop-up restaurants in key markets.

Pop-up shops have been effective in driving awareness and word of mouth in other industries, such as Indochino's pop-up tailor concept. Carnival has also taken advantage of the pop-up concept as well. During my days working for Carnival, I was responsible for a longer-term pop-up concept in high-traffic shopping malls, the Carnival Vacation Store. So, it's no surprise I find Celebrity's efforts to be particularly savvy, as I am a big fan of strategies that bring an unfamiliar brand or service closer to the consumer. This approach seems particularly smart when so few consumers have tried the product category (like cruising). I spoke with PR Director Elizabeth Jakeway about Celebrity's strategy and the lessons it learned from these efforts.

Revise Perceptions and Drive Actions. Jakeway indicates that Celebrity's strategy was twofold:

"(1) To bust the misperceptions that cruise ship dining is bland, unhealthy, overindulgent, etc.; and (2) To bring Celebrity's truly differentiating, high quality, fresh-from-scratch culinary experience to consumers/press/influencers on land, thereby raising awareness of the Celebrity brand and ideally driving them to consider a Celebrity cruise."

The Taste of Authenticity. Though these locations, the dining experience is carefully crafted with a focus on staying true to the food from the shipboard experience. Chefs, led by Director of Culinary Experience for Celebrity John Suley, create dishes from the current Celebrity menu, including halibut, Hamachi, and of course, its indulgent desserts. By offering a unique dining experience close to the homes of prospective cruisers, the line provides a preview of the cruise vacation far beyond what a website or brochure could provide.

Influence the Influencer. Much has been made about the concept of driving word of mouth with online influencers. Celebrity's approach has the potential to drive authentic buzz from these prospective customers by providing an inherently hedonic cruise cuisine experience on land. Dining has become social with the trend of Instagram and social sharing of food (aka food porn), and inviting influencers in top markets inevitably drives this social share. And the word of mouth generated from these events clearly achieves the line's first goal. Jakeway explains that the results were overwhelmingly positive:

"With the majority saying they not only would consider cruising with Celebrity in the future as a result, but many also saying they found our cuisine to be on a par with many of the finest restaurants on land, thereby completing breaking the misperceptions some consumers have about cruise ship dining."

Location, Location, Location. Savvy marketers know their customers intimately, and Celebrity is no exception. Jakeway indicated that the pop-up concepts launched in its 10 top markets:

"We first honed in on markets where a large percentage of our target audience resides. We then moved on to select a venue that is consistent with Celebrity's modern luxury design and ambience, and in a location that is convenient for good percentage of our target audience."

This investment Celebrity made was based in a well-informed strategy of targeting customers congruent with the profile of its existing cruisers with a rich, immersive consumption experience.

With so much bad news in the cruise industry the last couple of years, I find strategies like this refreshing. Jakeway suggests more innovative programs are in the pipeline, and I for one can't wait to see what Celebrity does next! The industry would be wise to continue bringing the cruise experience to the consumers to help bust myths and cultivate new cruisers.

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