Against the Tide

NCL’s new ad campaign highlights ‘whatever’

By: Jonathan Siskin

Norwegian Cruise Line has launched an ambitious $100 million nationwide rebranding initiative. The line’s new brand identity highlights NCL’s “freestyle cruising” concept and features the slogan “NCLWhere You’re Free to Whatever.”

“The time is right to build large-scale consumer awareness through this rebranding, since by 2010, we will have the youngest fleet in the industry with all our ships purpose-built for freestyle cruising,” said Andy Stuart, NCL executive vice president of sales, at a September press conference in New York City.

The freestyle concept was first introduced by NCL in 2000 to provide maximum flexibility to all aspects of a cruise. Freestyle drastically altered the onboard dining experience by allowing guests to eat whenever and with whomever they chose while expanding the number of dining options. Doing away with fixed dining times and formal dress codes, NCL also increased its choice of onboard entertainment and activity options with more theaters, lounges and bars.

The new NCL brand identity will be showcased in a media blitz featuring a series of whimsical TV and print ads. The TV campaign includes two 30-second TV spots that poke fun at the regimented style of cruising. The first ad, entitled “watches” opens with a herd of vacationers sunbathing and dining together in identical outfits while compulsively checking their watches to make sure they are on schedule. It then cuts to several “freestyle” images of passengers relaxing and enjoying themselves according to their whims on a NCL cruise. A second “dinner bell” spot features a similar theme with regimented cruisers marching in lockstep to a giant dining hall where they eat together in unison a contrast with a happy-go-lucky group of NCL passengers dining at one of several onboard specialty restaurants.

A series of print ads will also appear in more than 20 national consumer and trade magazines as well as in newspapers in the top 10 metropolitan markets. These ads will also emphasize the rebranding theme with tongue-in-cheek phrases like “Dinner will be served promptly at whatever o’clock” and “Our dress code: Wear something different.”

Although many consumers profess interest in a cruise vacation, only 17 percent of Americans have cruised. The line hopes to entice more non-cruisers onboard with its re-branded freestyle approach.

“This all-encompassing brand identity campaign truly illustrates how we are different from other lines and seeks to create demand with non-cruisers as well as repeaters,” said Scott Rogers, NCL’s senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Rogers also noted that focus group studies reveal that those most attracted to freestyle cruising see themselves

as individualists and non-conformists who are turned off by the structured style of cruising and want to enjoy a cruise on terms similar to the experience at a land-based resort.

To reinforce the new “swim against the tide” marketing strategy, NCL is sending 15,000 travel agents nationwide a direct mail piece in the form of a bright yellow box containing a clock with a single white fish on one of the hands going the opposite direction from the blue fish representing the clock numbers. In addition, the NCL Insider newsletter and all travel agent e-mail communications will reflect the new brand.

Agents can take advantage of the Internet, which is playing a key role in the rebranding. The Web site has been revamped and now offers both agents and consumers an interactive section detailing the benefits of freestyle cruising, as well as more detailed descriptions of shore excursions and a list of popular excursions by port. The Web site also provides agents quick access to hot deals and reduced-rate sailings. New agencies can register online and immediately begin booking NCL cruises.

Meanwhile, visitors to New York City will get an eyeful of the new NCL brand in Times Square where the giant ABC SuperSign will proclaim “NCL, Where You’re Free to Whatever” across its digital banner, TV screen and text ticker. Subway and bus riders will also see posters adorned with the NCL logo and the headline “Go your own way.”