P&O Cruises launches campaign to distance itself from P&O Ferries as brand health plummets

The cruise company has launched a print ad and short film clarifying its position as consumer confusion continues to impact its brand health across almost all measures.

Source: Shutterstock

P&O Cruises has launched an advertising campaign to distance itself from the still under-fire P&O Ferries business, as its own brand health continues to decline.

The firm published a full page advert in several daily newspapers on Friday 25 March, supported by a short film running on social media and broadcast video-on-demand platforms.

In both formats, the campaign aims to clarify that P&O Cruises is not affiliated with P&O Ferries and is part of an entirely separate company. P&O Cruises is owned by leisure travel firm Carnival Corporation, whereas P&O Ferries is owned by shipping and logistics business DP World.

Highlighting a tweet calling for a boycott of the cruise line, the ad reads: “Our names may both begin with P&O, but that’s where the similarity ends”.

Source: P&O Cruises/Twitter

While P&O Ferries’ brand health has unsurprisingly taken an enormous hit from the controversy surrounding its sudden sacking of 800 staff earlier this month, P&O Cruises is also taking a battering.

According to YouGov’s BrandIndex tool, the cruise brand’s overall index score – a measure of total brand health using an average of its impression, value, quality, reputation, satisfaction and recommend scores – has dropped by a whopping 18.8 points since the scandal broke.

On 14 March, three days prior to the sackings, P&O Cruises claimed a positive index score of 6.4. On 27 March, it was down to -12.4.

This sharp drop comes as the brand’s buzz – a measure of how much positive or negative noise consumers are hearing about a brand – plummeted from 3.1 to -34.5.

On impression, or overall consumer sentiment towards the brand, P&O Cruises has fallen from a score of 3.8 to -28.1. On reputation, a measure of how proud or ashamed a person would be to work for a brand, P&O Cruises’ score tumbled from 12.8 to -23.8.

The brand’s quality and value perceptions have also taken a significant knock, with its quality score down 10.3 points to 3.2, and its value score down from 0.1 to -7.1.

As a result, consumers’ willingness to recommend P&O Cruises to a friend or colleague has nosedived, from 7.3 to -19.4.

The troubling impact of the P&O Ferries’ scandal couldn’t come at a worse time for P&O Cruises. Like all travel brands, the cruise company took an enormous hit during the Covid-19 pandemic, unable to operate for the majority of the two-year period.P&O Ferries’ brand health nosedives after mass firings scandal

In its most recent financial update for the first quarter of 2022, parent company Carnival Corporation – which also owns Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, the Costa cruise brand, and others – reported an adjusted net loss of £1.9bn (£1.4bn).

However, since the middle of January the company had seen an improving trend in weekly booking volumes for future sailings. As it reported its results earlier this month, the business said recent weekly booking volumes had been higher than at any point since the restart of guest cruise operations.

As of 22 March 2022, 75% of the company’s capacity had resumed guest cruise operations and revenue per passenger cruise day over the first quarter increased by around 7.5% compared to a “strong” 2019. Carnival Corporation had therefore said it expected its monthly adjusted EBITDA profit to turn positive at the beginning of its summer season.

Fortunately for P&O Cruises, the impact of the P&O Ferries scandal hasn’t yet had a significant impact on its consideration and purchase intent scores. Consideration is down just 1.5 points, from 6.1 to 4.5, while purchase intent has marginally grown from 1.1 to 1.7.

At the same time, consumer awareness of the brand has risen from a score of 78.9 to 85.5.

Meanwhile, rival cruise brands TUI Cruises, Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises claim consideration scores of 6, 4.2 and 2.2, respectively.‘Lies, hypocrisy and deceit’: BrewDog’s brand health takes hit from allegations

The new campaign marks the second time in under two weeks that P&O Cruises has attempted to clarify it is not associated with P&O Ferries.

Following the initial wave of news coverage around the sackings scandal, the company wrote on its website and social media channels: “P&O Cruises is part of Carnival Corporation & PLC and as such is entirely unrelated to P&O Ferries.

“Our thoughts go out to all those affected by yesterday’s news. However, please be assured it’s business as usual on our cruises and our crew look forward to welcoming you on board soon.”

In a statement responding to the advertising campaign on Friday, a P&O Cruises spokesperson said the brand wanted to “clarify any possible confusion in the mind of the public and media”.

P&O Ferries’ ongoing decline

Meanwhile, the state of the P&O Ferries brand has only worsened as the business continues to face negative press coverage and government scrutiny.

On Thursday (24 March), CEO Peter Hebblethwaite appeared before a committee of MPs and admitted the ferry operator chose not to consult with trade unions over its decision, contravening legal requirements.

Hebblethwaite also confirmed his salary is nine times that of the company’s average seafarer, and that P&O Ferries is paying the agency workers replacing sacked staff an hourly rate below the UK minimum wage.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the CEO should resign as a result of his admissions.

As of 20 March last week, YouGov’s BrandIndex tool put P&O Ferries’ index score at -4.1. It has now dropped as far as -42.Fast, convenient, flexible: P&O repositions as the ‘safer’ alternative to air travel

Impression is down to -67, quality now sits at -44.6, value is down to -25.9, reputation has fallen to -63.8, and its recommend score is now as low as -49.3. All of these measures were previously in positive territory.

However, while consideration tumbled by a less enormous but still statistically significant 7.9 points to a score of 0, purchase intent was only marginally impacted, also now at a score of 0 compared to 0.6 previously.

The mass-firing at P&O Ferries comes as the business says it has made a “£100m loss year on year”, which has so far been covered by parent company DP World. The company transports around 15% of all freight cargo in and out of the UK and carried more than 10 million passengers a year pre-pandemic, but has suffered, like many transport companies, due to Covid-19.

A spokesperson said it had to make a “very difficult but necessary decision” to secure the future viability of the business, which “employs an additional 2,200 people and supports billions in trade in and out of the UK”.

DP World added: “Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now.”

In February last year, P&O Ferries repositioned its brand as the “safer” and “faster” alternative to air travel, as it looked to prime the brand ahead of travel restrictions easing and tap into pent-up demand from holidaymakers.

Former director of passenger sales and marketing Sarah Rosier told Marketing Week the business was looking to build brand awareness and start to change perceptions of ferry travel, so it was ready to capitalise when things returned to a semblance of normality post-pandemic.