Major cruise lines that compete with Royal Caribbean say they don’t operate viral marketing campaigns of the type Royal Caribbean allegedly ran with its Royal Champions program, and never will.
“Our Internet marketing team has always been almost puritanical about transparency and authenticity when it comes to social media,” says Tim Gallagher, a spokesman for industry giant Carnival. “People go to the boards looking for candid input from travelers about their experiences. We don’t need to try to influence those people with freebies.”
Gallagher says Carnival’s philosophy is to let its product speak for itself. “If you’ve seen comments on the cruise boards, (Carnival cruise director John Heald’s) blog or our own Carnival Connections you know that we have quite a loyal following among the ‘spirited’ who constantly sing our praises,” he says.
Royal Caribbean has come under fire in recent days from cruise enthusiasts, online message board operators and other industry watchers over the Royal Champions program, which allegedly rewarded a small group of fans who posted positive comments about the line at online message boards with free cruises and other perks.
A Royal Caribbean executive who spoke recently at a marketing conference said the aim of the program was to “subtly influence the influencers without them overtly realizing they were being influenced.”
Spokespeople for all of Royal Caribbean’s major competitors including Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess and Celebrity tell USA TODAY they have nothing similar to the Royal Champions program and would not engage in viral marketing at online message boards.
“We do monitor the boards to see what’s being talked about,” says Holland America spokesman Erik Elvejord. But there’s “no rewards, no pretending.”
Elvejord says that occassionally a Holland America spokesperson such as himself will enter a conversation on a message board but only after fully disclosing his or her affiliation. “It’s done to correct facts in the threads that may be incorrect,” he says. “But it’s always done by saying, ‘This is Erik, PR Director, Holland America Line. I wanted to correct some facts in this thread.’ Something like that.”
Princess spokeswoman Julie Benson says the line wouldn’t do viral marketing at online message boards. “Any of our future efforts to engage in conversations with the cruise enthusiast community will only be done transparently,” she says.
Indeed, transparency is the key when dealing with the online community, say cruise line representatives.
“We aren’t doing anything like that,” says Norwegian Cruise Line spokeswoman Courtney Recht, referring to Royal Caribbean’s program. “Everything we do is very transparent.”
Even Royal Caribbean’s sister company, Celebrity Cruises, is staying away from the idea.
“We don’t have a viral marketing campaign like that of Royal, and we also do not have a viral marketing campaign on online message boards,” says Celebrity spokesperson Elizabeth Jakeway. “We proactively solicit feedback from our guests via questionnaires both during and after their cruises — and other surveys among our Captain’s Club loyalty program members, of course, but purely for feedback/measurement/shaping our product and experience, not for viral marketing purposes.”