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NRA vs. Carnival Cruise Lines: Who Wins in a Marketing Faceoff?

Toast with the National Rifle Association (NRA) logo burned into it in Gardnerville, Nevada

Photograph by David Calvert/Bloomberg

Toast with the National Rifle Association (NRA) logo burned into it in Gardnerville, Nevada

I know I’m going to regret responding to a blast public relations e-mail this way, but this one actually has something instructive to say to a business audience.

Bill Leider, a brand consultant and author of the book Brand Delusions: Exploding the Myths (2012), tries to draw attention—and, no doubt, clients—with his “Winners & Losers” lists. Like a smart marketer, he’s on the news today with this dispatch (which I’ve compressed) on the National Rifle Association and Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL):

“Winner: In its area of interest, the NRA is arguably more powerful than Congress itself. Its strategy is simple, its focus is laser-like, and its execution is flawless. The NRA gets the money it needs to build its brand strength from people who support its views, and gun manufacturers. It’s, simple, brilliant and well executed.

“Loser: By now, most of us know about the cruise ‘mishaps’ that befell Carnival and about 8,000 unhappy customers who had the misfortune of sailing on one of those ill-fated cruises during the last couple of months. What Carnival’s customers expect is an extraordinary experience of fun, adventure, romance—and flawless comfort and safety. It’s that flawless comfort and safety part that, in this latest series of incidents, has come into question. It’s the part that requires 100 per cent performance all the time. People may have gotten complacent, perhaps taken some shortcuts, ignored some ‘minor’ issues to save money, etc.”

What’s the takeaway? Gun-control advocates might profitably consider their nemesis, the NRA, as a business. It’s a fund-raising business. It thrives on conspiracy theories about government gun confiscation. Tangling with the NRA over gun control looks like a losing fight for the foreseeable future. Maybe the issue needs “rebranding,” to borrow a term from Mr. Leider. Maybe a debate about “crime control” would avoid the politically radioactive and culturally vicious conflict that arises when the Second Amendment enters the discussion.

As for cruises, where you’re cooped up on ships with lots of people eating and gambling too much, I’ve never seen the appeal. If marketers of other vacations can’t beat the midnight buffet on the Lido Deck, they don’t deserve to be in business in the first place.

Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. His new book, Law of the Jungle, tells the story of the Chevron oil pollution case in Ecuador.

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