Enjoy luxury cruise service, from the brand that brought you the RMS Titanic.
As marketing pitches go, it’s not exactly an easy sell. But despite its associations with the most famous nautical disaster in history, the flag of White Star – the shipping company that built the doomed behemoth which sank 100 years ago – is flown proudly on one cruise line.
Cunard ocean liners still use the White Star brand, which the company acquired years ago. The name, and its logo bearing the original red pennant and white star, is a prominent part of the Cunard experience. Crew members are trained at the White Star academy and wear White Star lapel pins. Customers can order White Star luggage shipping service to porter their bags home after a trip. And White Star is the brand name of Cunard’s first-class tier of service, including a personal concierge.
The White Star name had been out of use for a few decades before, ironically, James Cameron’s epic movie about the line’s greatest tragedy helped reinvigorate the brand.
In 1997, Cunard saw a boost in transatlantic bookings as Titanic viewers were drawn to the company’s image of old-style oceanic travel. The following year, Carnival Corp. bought the line and invested $800-million (U.S.) to build the Queen Mary 2 for transatlantic luxury crossings.
“That film is one of the reasons Carnival bought Cunard,” said Michael Gallagher, Cunard’s historian. “… They were keen to use the White Star name. Because White Star was a great name as well, regardless of the Titanic.”
Cunard actually has Canadian roots. Sir Samuel Cunard of Halifax founded the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Co., known as the Cunard Line, in London in 1840. Its connection to White Star came after the Titanic disaster: During the Depression in the ’30s, Cunard’s new ship the Queen Mary was rusting in a port near Glasgow due to lack of funds to finish building it. In 1934, the British government offered a loan to complete construction, on the condition that Cunard form a new company with its ailing competitor, to be called Cunard White Star. It kept the joint name until 1951, when Cunard took over the company and reverted to its original name. Cunard’s remaining ships from the White Star line continued to fly the flag until 1968, however, when it fell into disuse.
Carnival introduced the White Star-branded service on the Cunard ships starting in 2000. It’s a strategic fit with Cunard’s target market of travellers drawn to the nostalgic feel of a luxury transatlantic trip, said Robert Kwortnik, a marketing professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, who studies the cruise industry. Its ships have a much more traditional look than other cruise liners, and include services such as afternoon tea.
“When Carnival designed the QM2 to have the look of a classic transatlantic liner, I thought that was a brilliant strategy … The movie did a phenomenal job of showing the romantic nature of transatlantic passenger travel back in the day. It was a glory time,” Prof. Kwortnik said.
Since the movie’s grim spectacle of the ship sinking in frigid waters did nothing to dissuade customers, Cunard expects it will get another major boost from the 3-D rerelease of Titanic for its April-to-September transatlantic season. According to the company, bookings for its transatlantic cruises this summer were already up 10 per cent in March compared to the same time last year. It turns out, the first half of the movie, with its lush scenes of White Star’s old-time luxury, had the bigger impact. And it’s a marketing boon for the cruise industry.
“That’s what people come to Cunard for, to relive that golden age … You’ve got Leonardo and Kate running around and falling in love, and it’s very elegant,” Mr. Gallagher said. “Everything just seemed wonderful on the Titanic. Until, of course, the ship hit the iceberg.”