Reality check for marketeers

… why you are getting it all wrong when it comes to the visual revolution

We are in the age of the visual revolution. Sorry? What? Yes, visuals are the bomb. Not just a little bit, but all over the place. Where Instagram is growing like crazy, YouTube is the second largest search engine and even LinkedIn is growing when it comes to images and video.

A real big chance for everybody. Not only telling how good your products and services are, but also showing it with images. Because images speak louder than words; right?

Let’s dive a little deeper where it tends to get ugly when it comes to visuals.

Let’s go on a cruise

This April I went on a cruise. In 2016 we cruised with Carnival Cruises, which was a big eye opener and fun and brilliant customer experience (on which I blogged). So in 2019 we wanted to push it a little, go on a longer cruise and see more islands. We changed to Celebrity Cruises, because their ships were newer, the destinations fitted and the whole look and feel of the website, matched with what I was longing for.

This is where it all went wrong. Please take a look on their website: I am curious what you see and what impression you get? Well I got the impression of modern luxury (which is also what they promise, as one of the guest relations officers told me) and the website shows guests like me.

The Stereotype Exercise

Now, let’s do a small exercise that I learned at Disney Institute. The Stereotype exercise. When you think of cruising and the typical customer. What things come to mind? Before I type any further, you could pick up pen and paper, but you can also keep reading. I will join you in your mind.

When I stereotype cruising and their guests, I think of an older population, a little grey-haired to be honest. Pensioners, who love jewelry and play bridge. They are grandparents, children moved out of the home. Who want to experience luxury and comfort and want to dine with captain Stubing (little joke).

Our experience in 2016 was really different. Carnival is known for their fun and they attract a young crowd. That is also what their website shows when it comes to visuals. Now let’s switch back to Celebrity. When I glance at their visuals on the website or their Instagram, I see people like me. Young, okay, this is debatable ?, but between 40 and 55. Young, right?! A young crowd who enjoys life, who likes to explore and have new adventures. This is what they market, this is what they sell on their website.

Different expectations

So imagine entering the boarding area in Fort Lauderdale, where the first impression was… An old peoples home. The stereotype we just imagined. Yes, we saw canes, walking racks and wheelchairs. That is not any issue, but I booked this holiday with a different expectation. Praise the lord there were younger people aboard, but they were scarce. And that was a real pity for my daughter of twenty, who I brought along. Yes, we had a great holiday, but thinking back of the Carnival Cruise and the fun we had with most of the guests; I wish we booked with them.

During the cruise, we shared tables with many people and for example had a chat with a couple (in their 70s) who were on their tenth cruise with Celebrity. Yes, they admitted Celebrity is known for a little older crowd. That is what they liked and why they came back. Again and again. And we had many more chats like that.


The fourth day of the cruise, I decided to have a conversation with guest relations. Because it somehow itched that the cruise was marketed in a way, which wasn’t delivered. I explained my disappointment and the lady behind the desk spoke these words “Yes, we have an older population on board. If you would have liked a younger cruise, you should have booked Royal Caribbean.” What?! Really?!

While I am writing this, I feel the same emotions again. Those of frustration and disappointment. You sell me a cruise with a certain expectation, I book online, I have to let you know who I travel with (a twenty-year-old), you give no advice and then a little twat behind the desk tells me this. My oh my.

Where did it go wrong from an organizational customer experience point of view?

Honor your clients

I think the marketeers of Celebrity Cruises are all pretty young and hip. Chances are they hire other hip website builders, travelers and influencers to create visuals and tell stories. Probably the board wants to rejuvenate their passengers. Marketing most certainly works with personas, but I don’t think the older traveler is in there. They aim for young, as shows their website and Instagram.

Now comes the truth and nothing but the truth. Be happy with your clients. Give them the credits they deserve. Because these older guests are filling your pockets. Make sure you show reality in your visuals. Not just polishing it up with models and stock photo’s you use now. Show your real customers in your visuals. Give them the place they deserve on your website, Instagram and Facebook.

Because what happened with me, is not an N=1 (just one traveler) situation. We had a conversation with over ten other young guests, and they had the same experience as we had. They were also not coming back on Celebrity. At least not in the next twenty years ?, as at that age we fit their age group in a better way.

My dear marketeers, when you show pictures that are too far from the truth, you are the reason why customers get disappointed. Guest relations can’t fix it down the line. They can only fix it with some extra’s, but you are two steps behind.

Be real

Does this only happen in the travel industry? NO. This is the hard truth in many areas of visual marketing. For example, have a look at websites of golf courses. The pictures are beautiful. The sun is rising. Greens look so green. Bunkers are all raked meticulously. And the most surprising thing; almost never do you see any people golfing. It could be a very young and slim couple, but most often these golf courses are photographed at moments of total ‘nobodyness’.

Reality is different. Most golf courses host many flights of golfers. There are PEOPLE on a golf course. Not models, but people like me, my mom and dad. Normal people.

Of course, you want to look your best on a website. You want to show things on a sunny day. Literally and metaphorically. But don’t overdo it. Make sure it looks great, but also real. Because if you don’t: reality will hit and create disappointment down the line.

So, my plea is: do the reality check. Take a look at your website and other social channels where you use visuals like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Are you telling the truth, or should you take it down a notch? Me and my fellow customers would appreciate the real story. Thank you.


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