Royal Caribbean Gives VIP Status to Gushy Reviewers; Gets Spanked by Blogosphere

royal-caribbean-money.jpg

Okay. Let's nail this down once and for all: DO NOT start a lavish, perks-heavy club of people -- in this case, Royal Caribbeans' "Royal Champions" -- whose objective is to plug your company hither and yon without revealing affiliation.

Just never do it. It's one thing to identify brand advocates and give them props for loving you; it's quite another to do this:


In May 2007, the Royal Champions community of online enthusiasts was invited to their first big event, the pre-inaugural sailings of our newest ship Liberty of the Seas in New York and Miami. This was the first time in the company's history that invitees to pre-inaugural sailings were "ordinary people" i.e. not VIP's, corporate executives, or top producing travel agent. Royal Caribbean hosted ship and stateroom tours and cocktail parties with executives. President Adam Goldstein hosted the New York party and CEO Richard Fain hosted the Miami party. The events generated abundant positive word-of-mouth on various sites and created a cohesive community of Royal Caribbean online enthusiasts that are regularly leveraged for ongoing marketing initiatives.

The Consumerist wraps up nicely: "The program's existence by itself isn't objectionable. Every industry is a carrier for public relations parasites, but most so-called public relations professionals adhere to a code of conduct that includes a clear disclosure of their affiliation."

Royal Caribbean's Consumer Insights Group admits "the key to success" in its "viral marketing" campaigns thus far have been "to subtly influence the influencers without them overtly realizing they are being influenced."

Load of crap. BzzAgent, a third-party WOM marketing network, requires that its evangelists disclose their affiliation to whatever company they're plugging at the time. The firm claims this disclosure actually increases the perceived sense of integrity of an evangelist, making them more likely to try the reco'd product.

No excuses. If people get perks to talk about you, they need to make that clear to their audiences.

by Angela Natividad    Mar-19-09   Click to Comment   
Topic: Brands, Online, Social, Worst   

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Comments



Comments

What makes this particularly egregious is that the management of Cruise Critic, which part of the TripAdvisor division of Expedia, facilitated this behavior on its unknowing users. Does this action by Cruise Critic fly in the face of FTC regs? It certainly created an uneven playing field for other cruise line advertisers, who may be entitled to damages.

From Jaunted (Conde Nast):

Royal Caribbean Cruises Has Web 2.0 Viral Infection

No surprise here: Royal Caribbean Cruise Line has a viral infection. For once, however, it's not the Norovirus but that new-fangled byproduct of Web 2.0, the viral marketing infiltration. According to Consumerist, a group of fifty "Royal Champions" was outed by their own creator, the Customer Insight Group, as being a successful project whereby frequent positive cruise commenting on sites such as CruiseCritic was rewarded with free cruises and other perks.
So what's the big deal? Well, it seems that the "Royal Champions" weren't always up front about their status as compensated reviewers, effectively misleading readers of CruiseCritic forums with their positive comments. Add to this the fact that CruiseCritic admins assisted Royal Caribbean in choosing the fifty, with one of the stipulations being quantity of posts, "with many having over 10,000 message board posts on various Royal Caribbean topics." From here, the hole just gets deeper.
Now that many RC fans feel slighted at not having made the ranks and most everyone else is disgusted at the covert trade of cruising for happy juicing, the trustworthiness of such forums is under fire.
Due to CruiseCritic's ownership by TripAdvisor, which is in turn under the Expedia blanket of travel sites, a viral marketing stunt gone awry could possibly continue to negatively ripple. Does news like this affect your ability to trust good reviews on travel sites, or do you already consider yourself an excellent shill-spotter enough to weed out the solicited from the unsolicited? While this whole ordeal is mired in serious muckety-muck, let's hope it serves as a lesson for future viral marketers and as an argument for transparency.

Posted by: Stuart Falk on March 19, 2009 2:44 PM

What makes this particularly egregious is that the management of Cruise Critic, which part of the TripAdvisor division of Expedia, facilitated this behavior on its unknowing users. Does this action by Cruise Critic fly in the face of FTC regs? It certainly created an uneven playing field for other cruise line advertisers, who may be entitled to damages.

From Jaunted (Conde Nast):

Royal Caribbean Cruises Has Web 2.0 Viral Infection

No surprise here: Royal Caribbean Cruise Line has a viral infection. For once, however, it's not the Norovirus but that new-fangled byproduct of Web 2.0, the viral marketing infiltration. According to Consumerist, a group of fifty "Royal Champions" was outed by their own creator, the Customer Insight Group, as being a successful project whereby frequent positive cruise commenting on sites such as CruiseCritic was rewarded with free cruises and other perks.
So what's the big deal? Well, it seems that the "Royal Champions" weren't always up front about their status as compensated reviewers, effectively misleading readers of CruiseCritic forums with their positive comments. Add to this the fact that CruiseCritic admins assisted Royal Caribbean in choosing the fifty, with one of the stipulations being quantity of posts, "with many having over 10,000 message board posts on various Royal Caribbean topics." From here, the hole just gets deeper.
Now that many RC fans feel slighted at not having made the ranks and most everyone else is disgusted at the covert trade of cruising for happy juicing, the trustworthiness of such forums is under fire.
Due to CruiseCritic's ownership by TripAdvisor, which is in turn under the Expedia blanket of travel sites, a viral marketing stunt gone awry could possibly continue to negatively ripple. Does news like this affect your ability to trust good reviews on travel sites, or do you already consider yourself an excellent shill-spotter enough to weed out the solicited from the unsolicited? While this whole ordeal is mired in serious muckety-muck, let's hope it serves as a lesson for future viral marketers and as an argument for transparency.

Posted by: Stuart Falk on March 19, 2009 2:44 PM

What makes this particularly egregious is that the management of Cruise Critic, which part of the TripAdvisor division of Expedia, facilitated this behavior on its unknowing users. Does this action by Cruise Critic fly in the face of FTC regs? It certainly created an uneven playing field for other cruise line advertisers, who may be entitled to damages.

From Jaunted (Conde Nast):

Royal Caribbean Cruises Has Web 2.0 Viral Infection

No surprise here: Royal Caribbean Cruise Line has a viral infection. For once, however, it's not the Norovirus but that new-fangled byproduct of Web 2.0, the viral marketing infiltration. According to Consumerist, a group of fifty "Royal Champions" was outed by their own creator, the Customer Insight Group, as being a successful project whereby frequent positive cruise commenting on sites such as CruiseCritic was rewarded with free cruises and other perks.
So what's the big deal? Well, it seems that the "Royal Champions" weren't always up front about their status as compensated reviewers, effectively misleading readers of CruiseCritic forums with their positive comments. Add to this the fact that CruiseCritic admins assisted Royal Caribbean in choosing the fifty, with one of the stipulations being quantity of posts, "with many having over 10,000 message board posts on various Royal Caribbean topics." From here, the hole just gets deeper.
Now that many RC fans feel slighted at not having made the ranks and most everyone else is disgusted at the covert trade of cruising for happy juicing, the trustworthiness of such forums is under fire.
Due to CruiseCritic's ownership by TripAdvisor, which is in turn under the Expedia blanket of travel sites, a viral marketing stunt gone awry could possibly continue to negatively ripple. Does news like this affect your ability to trust good reviews on travel sites, or do you already consider yourself an excellent shill-spotter enough to weed out the solicited from the unsolicited? While this whole ordeal is mired in serious muckety-muck, let's hope it serves as a lesson for future viral marketers and as an argument for transparency.

Posted by: Stuart Falk on March 19, 2009 2:45 PM







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