Carnival Reels In Customers with Digital Displays

Empty storefronts are a growing retail reality, but Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines recently transformed the economic downturn into a brand-building opportunity. This spring, Carnival, the world’s largest cruise operator, launched larger-than-life interactive aquariums in vacant, freestanding store windows in Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. The two-month-long sidewalk aquarium campaign, which ran through the end of April, followed two other memorable Carnival Cruise Line marketing efforts, including a building-sized piñata and a blimp-sized inflatable beach ball—each attempting Guinness World Records.

“Given the consumer’s increasing ability to tune out (more traditional) advertising messages, it is important to find new and compelling ways to create engagement,” says Jim Berra, chief marketing officer, Carnival Cruise Lines.

Thanks to high-tech motion sensors, external movement from passersby enabled underwater plants and seaweed in the window aquariums to move and sway. Signage inside the tanks invited participants to further dive in by making their own “fish” for the watery windows through the use of mobile phone technology.

The promotion, designed by the Boston office of Arnold Worldwide in partnership with Orlando, Fla.-based Monster Media, deployed computer vision, Flash animation, rear-projection technology and “heavily customized” mobile gaming software, allowing any passerby with a handheld phone to create a custom digital fish. Monster Media is known for interactive windows, but has never before deployed mobile phone interactivity.

The ubiquity of cell phones made it easy to turn spectators into participants. The sign inside the window provided a phone number to call to create a digital fish to populate the aquarium. Using voice commands and connecting in real time, the caller could spawn a customized fish that could then be commanded around the tank using a phone keypad. Participants could also direct the virtual fish to various pieces of food that would transform it into other sea creatures.

When finished playing, participants received a thank you text message on their cell phones inviting them to visit a Web site for more activities and information. The application even stored past experiences, enabling participants to return to the screen later and reconnect with the aquarium to feed or play with their existing digital creatures.

“The mobile phone opt-in rate was twice that of projections, and brand interaction was nine times higher than that of Carnival’s rich media ads,” says Stephanie Evans, senior vice president, group account director, Arnold Worldwide. Plans call for extending the Carnival Aquarium experience to its Web site, as well as placing interactive systems at each of Carnival’s 17 ports and on each of its 22 cruise ships.

Carnival’s use of technology in its aquarium promotion casts a wider net for next-generation cruise customers. In charting new ground, Berra says, “The Carnival Aquarium delivers a fun and social experience in a unique and unexpected way that fits our brand.”

Nielsen Business Media