Royal Caribbean Cruises Has Web 2.0 Viral Infection: Failing to Identify Paid Advertisements May Mean They Pay People to Lie
No surprise here: Royal Caribbean Cruise Line has a viral infection. For once, however, it's not the Norovirus but that new-fangled byproduct of Web 2.0, the viral marketing infiltration. According to Consumerist, a group of fifty "Royal Champions" was outed by their own creator, the Customer Insight Group, as being a successful project whereby frequent positive cruise commenting on sites such as CruiseCritic was rewarded with free cruises and other perks.
So what's the big deal? Well, it seems that the "Royal Champions" weren't always up front about their status as compensated reviewers, effectively misleading readers of CruiseCritic forums with their positive comments. Add to this the fact that CruiseCritic admins assisted Royal Caribbean in choosing the fifty, with one of the stipulations being quantity of posts, "with many having over 10,000 message board posts on various Royal Caribbean topics." From here, the hole just gets deeper.
Now that many RC fans feel slighted at not having made the ranks and most everyone else is disgusted at the covert trade of cruising for happy juicing, the trustworthiness of such forums is under fire.
Due to CruiseCritic's ownership by TripAdvisor, which is in turn under the Expedia blanket of travel sites, a viral marketing stunt gone awry could possibly continue to negatively ripple. Does news like this affect your ability to trust good reviews on travel sites, or do you already consider yourself an excellent shill-spotter enough to weed out the solicited from the unsolicited? While this whole ordeal is mired in serious muckety-muck, let's hope it serves as a lesson for future viral marketers and as an argument for transparency.
Did Cruise Critic Cross an Ethical Line?
While I'm not a legal expert, I wonder if Cruise Critic's participation in this activity in some way might violate FTC regulations. Cruise Critic's management, in defense of their behavior, is claiming all it did was to provide their advertiser and marketing partner, RCCL, the contact information for those in to be invited to the Royal Champions Program;. Who are they kidding? Cruise Critic in addition knowingly published reviews and comments from this group and, according to a Cruise Critic bulletin board post (since removed from the site) from their Community Manager, both the Community Manager and Cruise Critic's Editor met with a large group of Royal Champions aboard one of the free incentive cruises. So, at the very least, Cruise Critic demonstrated a total disregard for their users who might have been misled by these posts, while creating an uneven playing field to the detriment of cruise lines other than RCCL. This seems to flaunt stated Trip Advisor policy, so it would be good to hear from them on this matter. And, as a public company, I wonder as well if Expedia, corporate parent of both Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor, may be liable for behavior that could be considered detrimental to their shareholders
Related Stories:· What Is A Royal Champion? [CruiseCritic.com]·
Paid Cheerleaders: Does Royal Caribbean's Viral Campaign Cross the Line? [Tripso.com]·
Marketing Campaign Sinks Cruise Critic [msnbc.com]