Shipping is an international enterprise, and advertising has long played a crucial part in its commercial success. The promotion of cargo services through ships’ agents is essential, but the most familiar forms of advertising have been for passenger services—whether the services were for immigrants, for the transport of government officials and armed forces to distant lands, or for holiday cruising. Posters, newspaper and magazine advertisements, and postcards have all played an important role in advertising shipping services.
Historically, governments have been supportive of their major shipping lines. Ships carried the mail, and shipping was also a matter of national pride. In an unprecedented event for Cunard in 1936, some seven hundred members of the British House of Commons and House of Lords, along with their guests, visited the British ocean liner Queen Mary; subsequently, King George V and Queen Mary, who had launched the ship in 1934, presented a signed photograph of themselves to be hung on board. Likewise, at a ceremony that took place in Southampton, England, in 2004, Queen Mary’s successor, the British-registered but American-owned Queen Mary 2, was named by Queen Elizabeth II, who had launched Queen Elizabeth 2 in Scotland in 1967.
Shipping companies have also promoted themselves through the buildings they occupy, although few do so today. The buildings were designed to dominate their surroundings, with the name of the company prominently displayed as part of an effort to advertise the company’s shipping services. Among surviving examples, albeit under other ownership and used for different purposes, are the Cunard buildings in Liverpool, England, and in New York. Indeed, parts of the interior of the Liverpool building were designed to look like the interior of ships operating from Liverpool after World War I.
But shipping companies have also advertised through ship models, sailing lists, promotional leaflets, house magazines, and calendars, as well as—for passengers already on board—through souvenirs, menus, and passenger lists. Considerable advertising was also done through postcards and posters. Postcards were often sold to immigrants for sending farewell messages to relatives. The traditional poster began to be used in the second half of the nineteenth century and flourished during the interwar period of the twentieth century. Marine artists were influenced by the art deco approach of Frank Pick (1878–1941), who was ultimately the managing director of the London Underground. For shipping companies, this approach led to exaggerated images of the ships, which dwarfed the other images around them. Such examples showing ships in New York can be seen in the work by Odin Rosenvinge (1880–1957) that features Aquitania for Cunard and the famous work by Adolphe Mouron (1901–1968), better known as Cassandre, that features the bow view of Normandie for the French Line.
Kenneth Shoesmith (1890–1939) felt that the ships he portrayed looked even more appealing when shown in the place they were sailing to rather than in the place they were sailing from, and he adopted this approach widely in advertising for cruises. Earlier, in 1890, an enduring set of images had been published by the artist W. W. Lloyd for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O). These were watercolors and pen-and-ink sketches depicting the kind of experiences that a passenger might have en route to India. The experiences are well observed and sometimes humorous, and the sketches were widely used by the company on menus well into the twentieth century.
A decision to travel with a particular company was often based on the size of its ships and on the ships’ speed. Companies built ships with four funnels, even if one was a dummy, because passengers felt that such ships looked more impressive than vessels with three and offered a quicker passage and thus less chance to get seasick. Bonds forged with the captain and crew have also always been important in retaining passengers. To this end, companies often list the senior officers by ship in company brochures. Companies have also introduced loyalty schemes for repeat passengers, offering discounted fares and other benefits that are not available to first-time passengers.
To attract passengers, shipping companies have over the years tried to improve both accommodations and cuisine. When in 1921 the United States placed restrictions on immigration, third-class space—which was that traditionally used by immigrants—was significantly undersubscribed on many ships. This situation was dealt with to some extent by diverting ships to cruising. But on ships not so diverted, a tourist class of accommodation was introduced that, for approximately the same fare as third class, offered amenities normally associated with second and even first class. This led ultimately to tourist class becoming the equivalent of second class, which was abolished in the mid-1930s, and by 1936 cabin class had superseded first class.
Shipping companies also advertised by means of trade fairs and exhibitions where models of ships were displayed and passenger accommodation was re-created. An exhibition by Cunard included a model of its first Mauretania and marketed the ship as the eighth wonder of the world, comparing its size with that of the great Egyptian pyramid at Giza and with that of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Prior to Queen Mary’s maiden voyage in 1936, Cunard gave a series of dinners for invited guests at the Trocadero in London; the restaurant was adapted to create the appearance and atmosphere of parts of the ship. The introductions of such vessels were national events, and some companies chose to mark the introductions by issuing medallions. Britain’s royal mint produced three thousand bronze medals and five in gold to mark the maiden voyage of Queen Mary. One of the gold medals was presented to King George V and another to Queen Mary. Two others were presented to the president of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, and to Mrs. Roosevelt, and the fifth went to the chairman of Cunard, Sir Percy Bates (1879–1946). Bates’s medal can be seen at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool. Medallions commemorating the introduction and service of France, owned by the French Line, were minted from 1962, and in 2004 medallions marked the introduction into service of Queen Mary 2.
The Blue Riband, the accolade for the fastest crossing of the North Atlantic, had its origins in the late nineteenth century. The contest caught the public’s imagination and engendered national pride. From an advertising standpoint, the benefit to the nation with the Blue Riband holder was considerable. Countries able to distinguish themselves in this way were Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States. The longest-serving holder was the first Mauretania, holder from 1907 until 1929, and the last holder was United States of United States Lines. Vessels arriving in New York after a record-breaking run, particularly if on a maiden voyage, were met with wild enthusiasm by the ships and crowds that had gathered to greet them.
Whereas the Blue Riband was an accolade with no official physical form, the Hales Trophy was a real loving cup. The award was conceived in 1934 by Harold K. Hales, who was the British member of Parliament for Hanley in Staffordshire. The award was to be presented to the Blue Riband holders on the North Atlantic. Winners included the Italian Rex, followed by the French Line’s Normandie and Cunard’s Queen Mary, although the trophy was refused by Cunard’s chairman, Sir Percy Bates. After a long interval, the last ocean liner to win the award was United States of United States Lines.
A measure of the public’s love of some ships can be gauged from the reaction to the withdrawal from service of the first Mauretania. As she sailed for the breaker’s yard from Southampton, members of the public who had never sailed on her, as well as former passengers, gathered to pay their last tributes in various ways, and a piper played a lament on her arrival at the breaker’s.
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