From the days of bored flight attendants blowing whistles, pulling out red tabs and pointing out the nearest exit to disinterested passengers…
…to slickly produced stories showcasing thebrand and home country, often in partnership with not just creative hot shops like wieden+kennedy but even Hollywood and music entertainment companies. With a reach today that goes beyond the 777-300 to millions of views on YouTube.
So how did we get to the point where our planes are full of mythical film creatures, swimsuit models, football stadiums and even a medley of internet memes?
Firstly, of course, familiarity breeds indifference – most passengers tend to tune off during these demonstrations. So there is a need to do something unexpected to get their attention. But the greater motive was in the realisation that this presented a wonderful opportunity to present your brand message to a captive audience.
Virgin America was the first to release fresh oxygen into what was a yawnfest back in 2007, with an animated video that communicated its playful brand identity. But it was Air New Zealand that realised the potential of that video using the escape slide to reach millions of prospective travellers; from Bare Essentials to The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made (20 million views on Youtube and counting). The airline claims its legendary safety videos have not only helped increase global awareness of the airline but also boosted ticket sales.
In recent years, airlines are trying to outdo each other in creating memorable and viral safety video campaigns. From Turkish Airlines Lego to United “Spiderman” to Singapore Airlines “Exploration of Singapore” to where this article began: Qantas “Aussies being Aussies”.
But are they working? Or is the entertainment a distraction from the serious message it is supposed to communicate? It does seem to me that in trying to promote the brand and leveraging its associated properties, the core message of safety is getting compromised. In fact, there is growing concern within the airline industry on this with aviation bodies like FAA looking to tighten seatbelts and revise guidelines for these videos.
From a marketing standpoint, it does bring home to me the words of Prof. Clayton Christensen of Harvard - what job are we trying to do here? And if it is primarily a safety video for which we ensure full attention while building relevant brand associations, we don’t need to look further than that iconic Virgin America video – which focused on safety but with the trademark sassy tone of Virgin…
…and was a viral sensation to boot.