Royal Caribbean Goes Dark to Launch NBCU’s ‘Must-Hear TV’ Ad Format

The spot, featuring 4 seconds of audio over a black screen, debuts tonight

Perfect day at coco cay
The spot features Royal Caribbean's CocoCay water park in the Bahamas.
NBCUniversal

NBCUniversal has found a brand to debut the broadcaster’s new audio-led ad format it has dubbed “must-hear TV.”

An ad for Royal Caribbean debuting Thursday night will run as the first spot in an ad pod after the program has cut to black. It begins with the sound of rushing water and exuberant yelling and laughter. The sounds will play over a black screen for about four seconds before any image—in this case, white text—shows up to give audiences some context to what they are hearing.

The spot is intended to highlight the sound of the emotional highs of visiting Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay beach and water park as a part of the company’s cruise packages, and it’s the first test of NBCUniversal’s “must-hear TV” offering, which the company unveiled during the 2019 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Kara Wallace, Royal Caribbean’s vp of marketing, said it’s a chance to leverage the power of audio “plus the sight, sound and motion of video.”

The first half of the 30-second ad features the atmospheric sounds of the park and its guests, and the second half reverts back to a more traditional television ad that highlights the beach and the emotional experiences of its visitors.

The ad, which will run on NBC, USA, Bravo and E!, will only appear after certain scenes that complement Royal Caribbean’s emotional tenor but juxtapose it in terms of volume and energy so the ad’s quiet beginning stands out. Josh Feldman, head of marketing and advertising creative for NBCUniversal, said the hope is that the unusual beginning of the ad will capture viewers’ attention and keep them watching instead of tuning out during the commercial break.

“The whole idea behind this ad innovation of ‘must-hear TV’ is to really draw people’s attention back to the TV screen,” Feldman said. “We all know advertising works, but the idea is to get people to pay attention to that advertising.”

The spot is intended to be somewhat confusing to viewers at first.

“What we’re trying to do is break that up and mix it up and have them go, ‘Whoa, what’s happening here?’” Feldman said. “And then within seconds, we’re into their creative.”

Royal Caribbean settled on waiting four seconds before introducing information to contextualize the ad because it seemed like that was the amount of time it took before the ad approached “the cusp of uncomfortable,” Wallace said.

The ad unit is only available in the first ad slot following programming, and NBCUniversal and Royal Caribbean manually selected which pods and shows it would appear on. In the future, Feldman said, other advertisers could match their ads against other programming scenes depending on their specific goals.

Royal Caribbean didn’t set out to create a spot specifically for the new format, Wallace said. Instead, the brand, with help from agency MullenLowe Mediahub, repurposed sounds it had from videos it recorded at the park over the summer.

“Audio is going through a bit of a renaissance,” Wallace said. “We intentionally shot [those videos] with sound, knowing the excitement and range of emotions that our guests and customers would feel at this island was something that we would want to tap into.”

Royal Caribbean is the only brand partner for the “must-hear TV” offering so far, Feldman said.

“We’re excited to have a partner with someone that appreciates commercial innovations,” he said. “Instead of trying to recreate things that have been done, we can reimagine what the future should look like for advertising.”

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