Carnival Cruise Lines is running a Super Bowl ad this year. Surprised? I was. It’s a big risk. The last three years have not been good news for cruise lines. From Carnival’s infamous poop cruise to Disney’s kicking a baby and family off a ship in the middle of a large family outing, to virus outbreaks and fires, cruising isn’t exactly at the top of everybody’s bucket list. So what’s a huge cruise conglomerate like Carnival to do?
I happened to catch a preview of the spot on the CBS Super Bowl commercial show. The “Cruise Virgin” spot is very creative, well-done, and fits the culture of a Super Bowl spot very well. Carnival is trying to build back positive PR by placing this “fan-picked” ad in the Super Bowl. They allowed fans to vote from four produced commercials and some lucky person will win a cruise-a-year for life. It is a great first step, but it is still a risk. Especially if they promote a Twitter hashtag with the spot.
Please don’t misunderstand. I am not trying to rain on the Carnival Super Bowl ad parade. I’m sure they have fully capable PR people that have been watching the sentiment surrounding their brand like a hawk and are totally schooled in the cruelty of internet memes. It also should be noted that not every disaster in the last few years has involved a Carnival vessel. But the public is not that discerning.
The internet is filled with brands that have been kicked down a notch by angry fans for trying to promote themselves as wonderful at times when fans clearly disagree. The McDonalds #McDStories hashtag debacle comes to mind. There are times when positive PR cannot overcome public sentiment. Companies with a rocky past of customer service or poorly-received products have to be careful when stepping on to such a big stage. Given the real-time social media traction ads will get during the game, and depending on how boring the game is, a commercial can end up being a liability.
I want to see Carnival recover and move on. My hope is that their PR team has a solid strategy in place of how to deal with negative comments and snarky memes should anything of that nature emerge and go viral. Whether or not the company goes forward could depend on how their social media team responds to the back talk they get as a result of their ad. The best advice at this point might be to sit on your hands and let the conversations play out. If their strategy is to be responsive to fans in real-time social media and the conversation goes south, going silent in midstream may raise another set of problems. Above all—I hope they are ready. That way if a conversation does go viral, they can rest assured that any response was thought through ahead. Make sure experienced PR people are monitoring and responding. Don’t let the emotion of the moment produce a bad decision.
I will be watching this one closely. It may be that the American people don’t give a damn, especially if the game is entertaining. But I do know one thing…I’d be ready.