Among those with a mind for the tradition of the sea and the golden age of ocean liners, Cunard conjures up majestic images of stately ships and impeccably British service. Cruise conglomerate Carnival Corporation, who bought the Cunard brand in 1998, found out this week just how attached its fans were to that imagery when they announced that, after 171 years of registering its ships in the United Kingdom, Cunard Line would re-flag its entire fleet — Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth — in Bermuda. Starting at the end of this month, “Hamilton” (instead of “Southampton”) will be emblazoned across the stern of each ship.
The change, ostensibly, will be in order to perform weddings for passengers. There is big money, it seems, in having Captains marry passengers while at sea, but the practice is illegal in Great Britain. Changing the ships’ registry would also mean that the crew would not be subject to Britain’s more stringent employment laws either. As a British territory, though, Bermuda could give the ship high dollar benefits without losing the ship’s “British-ness.” Win-win scenario, right?
As Cunard fans were quick to point out on the company’s Facebook page, not so much.
Comments having been pouring in all day, ranging from disappointment and surprise (“Rolan Powell: Are you kidding me? Change your registry just for weddings??? This would be the financial iceberg of 2012, steer away now! Stay British!“) to rage (“Robert Ellerington Parr: 19/10/11 THE DAY YOU DIED CUNARD!!“). Not one post of support for the move from anyone willing to speak up on the page.
So what’s an embattled cruise line to do?
To their credit, Cunard is attempting to address the issue head-on, with a statement via their FB page. The post has even garnered a couple of likes, though one post couldn’t possibly swing the overwhelming negative sentiment of the fans.
In an increasingly competitive economy, no one can realistically fault the company for trying to be more competitive, but when you have a brand with image and history, you must tread lightly. Social media now gives a stage to those who feel passionate about your brand, whether that works in your favor or not, and it is vitally important to be aware of it at a time when things are in flux. Kudos to Cunard for listening and trying to respond, but every step they make in the next few days will be on a very public stage – here’s hoping they don’t stumble.
How would you have gone about it? What should Cunard do from here on out?