The ‘Downton Abbey’ bump

Downton Abbey Original Trailer.

By Michelle Baran
InsightIn 2011, when Viking Cruises penned a deal to become a national corporate sponsor for PBS, which included having promos run during “Downton Abbey,” the company arguably struck gold. And likely so, too, did the entire river cruise industry.“Downton Abbey” has since gone on to enjoy enormous popular and critical success, and perhaps not surprisingly Viking has continued to sponsor the show.Earlier this year, Viking kicked up its PBS campaign a notch, unveiling a new concept for the ads that would run during “Downton Abbey’s” fourth season — a series of seven, 30-second spots that would each tell a different part of the Viking story, whether it was a focus on the destinations Viking visits, performances onboard the ships or an ad dedicated to Viking’s culinary program.MichelleBaran

In addition to the PBS program, Viking quietly made some additional cable TV ad buys in the last year (you may have noticed, like some of us at Travel Weekly did, Viking ads run during pro football games), resulting in a total of more than $400 million that Viking has invested to market its product, according to the company.

Viking’s ads aren’t just reaching consumers, either. The company notes that agents are seeing the commercials while watching “Downton” too.

“We have heard from agents who said that they never thought they would sell river cruises until they saw the new Viking Longships in our PBS Masterpiece sponsorship during ‘Downton Abbey,’” Richard Marnell, Viking’s senior vice president of marketing, recently said.

No one in the river cruise industry will argue against the fact that Viking is doing more to increase awareness about the category than any other river cruise line.

In fact, Viking’s competitors welcome the ad spend and any spillover effect it might have in boosting their own bookings as consumers learn about river cruising in between episodes of “Downton.”

“Viking is very good about their ads on TV. But all that does is really increase awareness of the marketplace,” said American Queen Steamboat Co. Chairman and CEO John Waggoner. Waggoner was discussing the possibility of Viking entering the U.S. river cruising space, and said he would welcome the added competition, in part because of Viking’s aggressive marketing strategy.

“The analogy I use is it’s kind of like buying a car,” Waggoner added. “You might see an ad for an for a Hyundai and say, ‘Hey honey, let’s buy a new car.’ Well, once you decide to buy a new car, then I think you go out and you start to compare the cars.”

Other river cruise lines have both directly and indirectly tipped their hats to Viking for investing in advertising the river cruise experience in a way none of them really has the financial backing to do.

So, what’s the ROI on Viking’s efforts? The company’s bullish shipbuilding strategy in Europe coupled with the ongoing PBS sponsorship suggests that the ads are doing their job. How much have they bolstered the industry overall? Well, no one in the river cruise space is asking Viking to stop, that’s for sure.

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