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Maslow’s model of needs: application to Cunard and White Star marketing communications between 1900 and the 1950s

Graham Gladden (School of Humanities and Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 19 May 2020

Issue publication date: 14 August 2020




The purpose of this paper is to analyse Cunard’s marketing communications during a period of significant social and economic change. The intention is to show, firstly, how the company sought to meet and influence potential passengers’ understanding of their travel needs and, secondly, how these would be met.


The companies’ marketing communications are analysed using Maslow’s hierarchy. This is a well known descriptor of human needs.


Beyond a description and review of Cunard’s advertising, Maslow’s model of needs is shown to provide a rationale to the company’s approach. In particular, it gives an understanding of the continued, though changing, use of images of the ship to meet the needs of different cohorts of passengers. It shows how carefully constructed images in both word and picture assuaged passengers’ concerns over social needs and how the company promised to meet the highest needs, whether that be for the holiday maker or the emigrant.

Research limitations/implications

During much of the period under discussion, much of the advertising design work was done in house. Though none of these files have survived, other sources of information (for example, house magazines and internal correspondence) provide an understanding of Cunard’s attitude to its customers and the business opportunities it saw in a changing market. Where specific dates for documents are not available, a chronology of ship building and use has been applied.

Practical implications

This paper shows how a well-established model can be used in a different way, adding to the understanding of a company adapting to changing social and economic conditions.


To the best of author’s knowledge, this is the first time that Maslow’s hierarchy has been used explicitly as a tool to analyse marketing and advertising material. Though the existing literature includes some discussion of shipping line posters visual content, there is little further discussion of their content or purpose in a changing social context. This paper provides a more structured analytical view.



This paper is based on one presented at the CHARM conference in Liverpool, UK in 2017. Some of the research was carried out at the Institute of Railway Studies and Transport History, University of York, UK. The author acknowledges the advice from both editor and referees.


Gladden, G. (2020), "Maslow’s model of needs: application to Cunard and White Star marketing communications between 1900 and the 1950s", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 12 No. 3, pp. 323-344.



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