"The Sea is Calling." Should You Answer?

by , Jan 3, 2012, 2:25 PM
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To commemorate a milestone anniversary a few years back, my family went on a cruise. We entered it anticipating community-grade productions of Guys and Dolls, conga lines that snake from stern to bow, and pudding on demand. We exited it, or at least I did, frantically swimming away from a U.N. dingy just off the coast of Labadee, Haiti, all the while
screaming, "I'm not going back on that ship! You can't make me go back! I am a sovereign entity!" A spirited discussion about international law and nautical territoriality ensued. It's a long story, one better told under threat of subpoena.

Thus I'm not susceptible to the appeal of Royal Caribbean International's "The Sea Is Calling" campaign, in which a chiming "shellphone" - yup - invites whimsically inclined, ethnographically diverse city folk to "return to the sea." Separately: "shellphone"? Somebody should be held accountable for that, in this life or the next.

The concept is an unusual one, in that it aims to sell vacationers on the notion of tchotchke-free serenity, rather than on the twin delights of tetherball and cascading desserts. Playing up mood at the expense of accommodations, activities and accoutrements is as ballsy as online travel marketing gets - which is to say, the teensiest bit ballsy. I kind of like it, even if much of the accompanying campaign artwork comes across as forced and counterintuitive ("MP3? No. SPF. Yes." Okay, but what if I feel the need to, like, offset the hot rays with cool jazz?).

The execution is pretty simple: put-upon pedestrians encounter the aforementioned phone and enjoy a conversation with "the sea," which (who?) sounds like a randy Disney heroine. Blessed with uncanny knowledge about matters other than shanties and kelp, the sea beckons with promises like "you can get a massage" and "you can go to amazing restaurants" (to which the
sad-face housebound drone responds, "Yes."). Later, a wide-eyed child missing a few teeth asks, "Is this for real?" You get the point. Good-natured cutesiness reigns, even if pervs can have a field day with lines like "I want you to imagine that you're out in the middle of me…"

The shellphone reactions may or may not be authentic - one dude jumps onto a rock to emulate surfing, while another responds to the come-on by solemnly intoning "I work all the time" - but they work in the context of the pitch. The same can't be said for the supporting materials and outtakes, which can only be accessed by users who like Royal Caribbean on Facebook. Cruise
newbies or skeptics aren't likely to be won over by comments from company marketing peons, nor by huzzahs from members of the Crown & Anchor Society, one of whom claims to have embarked upon 42 Royal Caribbean cruises. Clearly, terrestrial life has not been good to him.

By conveying more detailed information, in fact, the outtakes or bonus clips or whatever they are undermine the charm of the campaign's core components. If you're pitching Royal Caribbean cruises as getaways from everyday contrivances, you probably shouldn't mention that some of the ships are equipped with Starbucks at Sea kiosks. Some things are better left on land.

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