Royal Caribbean Fills Virtual Ship With Celebrities

Kristin Chenoweth stars in 8-minute commercial from Mindshare

Royal Caribbean is hoping a new star-studded eight-minute commercial will help distance it from some of the cruise industry's negative public image.

"We are really trying to be in our category and to have people understand that Royal Caribbean is very different," said Lisa Bauer, Royal Caribbean's evp of global sales and marketing. "So we don't get lost in that sea of sameness, so that [consumers] don't lump all cruise lines together."

Last month, more than 100 passengers and crew on a Royal Caribbean cruise reportedly fell ill from norovirus, a decidedly unpleasant stomach sickness. The brand also hasn't been entirely insulated from the collateral damage that disasters on rival lines—like Carnival's Costa Concordia crash in 2012 and Triumph's debacle this year—have generally dealt to consumer perceptions of vacations at sea.

The ad, launched today, showcases the ambitiously named ship Quantum of the Seas, the brand's newest floating Las-Vegas-style resort. But when Royal Caribbean wanted to drum up buzz for the ostentatious boatel, the brand's executives ran into a more mundane problem than bad press. The ship hadn't been constructed yet.

"Typically you'd have to wait till the ship was designed and built to start taking the photos," said Bauer.

Instead, the brand and agency Mindshare passed the ship's CAD drawings (digital blueprints) along to visual effects house Brewster Parsons, with the assignment to recreate the entire ship—down to the light fixtures—using the same 3-D computer graphics techniques as James Cameron's Avatar.

The result: A somewhat surreal eight-minute long advertisement featuring a range of live celebrities traipsing around a virtual version of a ship that doesn't yet exist, while they tout its various features, including a skydiving simulator.

Emmy-nominated television and Broadway actress Kristin Chenoweth has the leading role as the ship's "godmother"—an endorsement partnership that the brand announced during the Oscars in February.

Modern Family's Nolan Gould, former NBA player Chris Webber, Estelle Harris of Seinfeld fame, magicians Penn and Teller, and Brazilian stock car driver Helio Castroneves make cameos in the new spot, hamming it up with less familiar faces like Royal Caribbean's chairman, Richard D. Fain, and its president, Adam Goldstein.

"We wanted to create a piece that engaged all ages," said David Lang, president of Mindshare Entertainment, the agency's branded content division. Gould is 14 years old, for example. Harris is 85. Chenoweth is 44.

"In terms of who we're targeting our sweet spot is certainly 40-something women," added Bauer. "[In terms of where] we really buy our media, that's really where our focus is."

The ship doesn't launch until November 2014. But in addition to making the full ad available on the Royal Caribbean website and across social media sites, the brand plans to cut the clip down to smaller spots and run them across a variety of paid media—with at least a year and half of spending behind it, according to Bauer.

Royal Caribbean spent $59 million buying ad space across media in 2012, down from about $69 million in 2011, according to Kantar estimates.

@GabrielBeltrone Gabriel Beltrone is a frequent contributor to Adweek.