Agent support for Carnival’s online search ban

Issues & Trends – September 2013

Agent support for Carnival’s online search ban

CARNIVAL Australia’s veto on online agents’ use of the company’s cruise brands in paid search advertising has drawn a mixed reaction from agents.

The world’s largest cruise company has emailed agents forbidding the use of branded keywords associated with Cunard Line, Carnival Cruise Lines, P&O Cruises Australia, P&O Cruises World Cruising and Princess Cruises in online paid search advertising.

It has provided agents with a list of prohibited key words and ordered them to “negative match” the words in paid search advertising.

Agents breaching the policy will incur sanctions involving loss of access to Carnival’s Polar booking system and restrictions on, or loss of, Carnival marketing benefits such as the partnership incentive program, select sailings and cruise sales.

The company says its new policy is a response to recent changes to Google’s AdWords Trademark policy, prompting it “to take a more active role in protecting its brands and associated trademarks, and in ensuring consumers are not misled in connection with
the use of its name and brands”.

The move comes at a time when, it is estimated, some online cruise marketers have been spending as much as $10,000 per month in “pay per click” advertising, much of it linked to cruise company brand names, as a search engine optimisation (SEO) technique designed to draw potential customers to their websites.

The result can be that a third party online agent can achieve the number one spot for searches of a cruise brand name. The owner of the brand would have to spend similarly to regain the number one position for searches of its own name.

Reportedly the Carnival initiative has stoked anger among agents with some interpreting it as a move by the cruise line to divert sales to its own website and some even investigating the possibility of trade practices breaches.

Certainly the move comes against a background of suspicion among agents that the company has become more aggressive in promoting direct sales in recent years.

But there is by no means universal agent anger about the ban on use of brand name key words in paid advertising. There is also indifference, and even support, among key cruise agents.

Steve Lloyd, chief executive of Australia’s most powerful cruise agency consortium, Cruiseco, said his company was unaffected “because our search engine optimisation does not involve using other cruise lines’ brands”. He accepted Carnival’s right
to protect its brands.

And Cruise Holidays managing director Les Farrar supported the move, pointing out that Google searches for terms associated with the Carnival brands are no longer generating third party advertising “which is completely the opposite of just a few weeks ago”.

He said: “Rather than view this negatively I believe this is a positive step for agents in general, as the cost of Google advertising had blown out far beyond what most agencies could afford anyway. 

“So rather than punish agents, it really has only affected a select few, and will in fact benefit the majority of pro-active and professional agents, both online and traditional store based.”

Rather than relying on SEO and discounting, agents should be attract-ing business by being creative and adding value, he said.

Farrar also defended Carnival against the suggestion that it is stepping up its drive for direct business. He lauded the company’s “select sailings” which enable agents to offer on-board credits not available online.




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