Commentary

Never Mind Accidents Or Sewage Backups -- Cruise CEO Proves He Can Throw Baseball

I consider myself one of the fortunate few. I survived four family cruises without contracting tetanus or scurvy. I was not catapulted overboard as part of a fiendish Florida-noir plot to cash in on a newly written life-insurance policy. Our ship's captain didn't abandon his command to see about a girl; its hallways didn't run brown with the discharge of a thousand dormant toilets. Sure, I picked up eight pounds of pudding weight, but at least I had some say in my delicious diabetic fate.

I actually had a lovely time on the open seas. The accommodations were clean and spacious, the on-board entertainment was dodgeable and the low-end alcohol was free. But owing to a few high-profile recent cruise disasters, the general perception is that to take a cruise is to entrust your well-being to a gang of indifferent sea peons whose sole aim is to separate passengers from their fanny packs. Hell, recent media coverage has suggested that cruises are the leisure-travel equivalent of balancing a live toaster on the edge of the bathtub. This is ridiculous, of course, but even people in the personal-beeper racket are like "dude, cruise lines are SCREWED" nowadays.

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That's why I'm surprised by the jokey, no-worries-mon approach of Celebrity Cruises' most recent clip. In it, Celebrity CEO/president and affable English chap Michael Bayley flaunts his affability and Englishness as he trains to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before a Red Sox game. He goes out of his way to play along with the bit, asking a local, "What's the plate, the place where the guy stands?" and uncorking a throwing motion straight out of the Tim Robbins athletic repertoire.

Ho ho ho -- so what you're saying is that, should I venture seaward on a Celebrity ship, I won't have to worry myself sick about storms and emergency protocols? That I can expect a degree of customer-centricity so advanced as to make the Nordstrom folks look like inbred carny grifters by comparison? That's good to know.

Oh, wait. You're not saying that at all. You're saying that, at a time when your industry has prompted thousands of would-be customers to opt instead for a staycation in a backyard tent, your most important marketing priority is to show that your leader can absorb some gentle ribbing.

This makes no sense at all. Nobody's saying that every piece of circa-2013 cruise marketing should feature a duly penitent CEO addressing the camera directly, his hands clasped and unclasped just the way the nice media-training person said. But we're still months away from the time when cruise lines can take their gigglepuss personas out for a spin. The recent calamities are still too fresh in the public's mind.

Even discounting concerns about the appropriateness of the approach, the clip isn't all that original. The rope-jumping, the "Eye of the Tiger"-ish score, the celebrity cameo (in this case, former MLB star Luis Tiant) -- the fake-training-montage thing has been done thousands of times before, in most instances far more inventively. For good derivative measure, the video adds a man-on-the-street component (in the form of asking passersby for advice) and a fantasy sequence (a "Field of Dreams"-y moment in which Bayley gazes up at the statue of Red Sox legends Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams, four players who collectively own three fewer World Series rings than Luis Sojo). Whoever scripted this thing didn't put much thought into it -- and if you're not going to put much thought into a piece of content, why bother?

As far as I know, Celebrity isn't one of the cruise lines that has subjected vacationers to surprise bonus five-day convalescences in the Gulf of Mexico (was that Carnival?). That said, even if Celebrity can boast of a 83,473-day no-inadvertent-contact-with-stationary-objects streak, the industry as a whole has a perception problem. All that a micro-gag piece of video does is attempt to change the conversation mid-sentence. Nobody's gonna hear it.

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