23 Dec A PR Stunt Done Right
If you have not seen WestJet’s Christmas Miracle video yet – you are missing out (and should go to watch it here now). In the video, WestJet set up a virtual Santa at check-in for two November 21 flights, asking 250 passengers what they would like for Christmas this year. Requests ranged from everything from socks and underwear to toys to a big screen TV.
While the passengers were in flight, 175 WestJet employees set out to purchase each of the items asked for – wrapping them and sending the gifts through the baggage claim to shocked passengers who stood waiting. The airline even got a little creative with it, buying women who asked for husbands, ken dolls, and those who asked for cars, toy cars. The event was topped off with Santa at baggage claim and fake snow falling.
The holiday video from the airline has since become a viral hit – racking up over 31 million views since it was released December 8, well surpassing any expectations the company had. The airline had originally set a goal of 200,000 views and if they reached that number, the airline planned to donate holiday flights to charity – seemingly a win-win for the company and viewers.
In the aftermath, the company has claimed that they did not intend for the video to be a public relations stunt, but rather a goodwill act during the holiday season. However, regardless of the intent, the video turned out to be just that – the type of PR stunt that others kick themselves for not having thought of or pulled off first.
The publicity they received is the type that can’t be bought. The video clocks in at 5 ½ minutes long and was shared by millions around the world. Had the company tried to buy an ad of that length during prime time, it would have likely cost upwards of a few hundred thousand dollars and only been seen by a small percentage of the people who eventually did see the video considering the average primetime audience is 8.2 million. And in today’s DVR era, it’s likely that number would be much less.
Meanwhile, by pulling off this stunt instead, WestJet kept costs significantly down. Many of the gifts were donated or discounted from retailers and partners, making the ROI for the stunt well, well worth it. Not only will it likely pay off monetarily in the end, with many who had never heard of WestJet (myself included) turning to the company next time they are booking travel – the stunt also paid off two-fold in terms of projecting the company as one who cares.
With so many publicity stunts being thought of as merely that, this one actually had a heart-warming element to it. The video left viewers feeling as though it was beyond a stunt and in fact an act of goodwill – making it the type of clip people want to share. More than anything though, the video gave viewers a little bit of magic, something that is rarely felt when it comes to marketing videos. It wasn’t the airline being generous that got viewers attention; it was the element of surprise and magic that was given to the passengers and those watching.
This time of year, feel good videos are all over social media and many of them do get shared and picked up by news media outlets – but WestJet nailed it this year beyond all others. And we the viewers happily shared the video without a second thought – because that is what marketing artistry achieves – promotion because of the sheer delight the event brings.