December 8, 2023

Advertising: Small Carrier Gets Big Tailwind From Social Media

Mr. Simmons stars in an in-flight safety video for Air New Zealand in which, along with providing standard instructions about oxygen masks and flotation devices, he leads crew members clad in fluorescent spandex and leg warmers in aerobic exercises. Since being uploaded to YouTube on March 28, it has garnered more than 1.9 million views.

Air New Zealand may be a small carrier with a modest presence in the United States (it flies only from airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu), but its online videos, just as surely as its airplanes, seem to always take off.

Another safety video from the airline that features a flight crew that is nude except for body paint applied to mimic uniforms, including neckties on men and scarves on women, has been viewed more than 6.1 million times since being uploaded to YouTube in 2009; a commercial featuring body-painted pilots and ground crews, which was shown only in New Zealand but also was posted to YouTube, has been viewed more than 6.5 million times.

Another video uploaded on March 29 stars the rapper Snoop Dogg and Rico, a puppet created for the airline by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in Los Angeles. Rico, who began starring in online videos last year, has, according to his creators, parents of Ecuadorean and Italian descent, and his loose grasp of English leads him to inadvertently utter double entendres.

The video has been viewed more than 500,000 times on YouTube, while other videos featuring the puppet over the last six months collectively have been viewed more than a million times.

Rico videos carry a warning about “language and themes of a sensitive nature,” and if anything unifies the airline videos, all by the agency .99 of Auckland, part of the BBDO group, it is risqué humor.


“It’s quite a challenge getting people talking about Air New Zealand in international markets when in reality we’re a nation of about 4.5 million people at the bottom of the world,” said Mike Tod, general manager of marketing and communications for the airline. “Being safe is not going to attract attention, and we’re willing to take some risks.” Social media has acted as a tailwind for the Air New Zealand videos, with Snoop Dogg promoting his both on Facebook, where he has more than 7.8 million followers, and Twitter, where he has more than three million.

Mr. Simmons shared his video with his more modest fan base (about 7,300 on Twitter and 11,400 on Facebook), but the video also benefited from appearing first on the popular Web site Mashable, which was given advance notice by the airline’s United States public relations and marketing firm, the Los Angeles office of CRT/tanaka.

The airline itself has more than 150,000 followers on several Facebook pages and about 25,000 followers on Twitter. On YouTube, Air New Zealand has its own self-contained channel, where users following a link to one airline video are apt to encounter others, and the channel has more than 3,500 subscribers, who are sent links to new videos when they are uploaded.

“Brands can’t just rely on luck and serendipity and just have a post-and-pray strategy” when it comes to Web video, said Dan Greenberg, chief executive of Sharethrough, a San Francisco agency that develops online advertising and social media strategies for Internet content.

“Instead of Air New Zealand creating a single self-contained piece of content, what they’re really creating is a community and a conversation,” said Mr. Greenberg, who has not worked for the airline.

Some of the earliest viral videos by brands had little or no association with products, often appearing to be homegrown and gaining popularity before brands took credit. But videos by the airline, set on well-appointed airplanes and featuring attractive and charming Air New Zealand employees, puts the company front and center, and Mr. Greenberg said that reflected a growing trend.

“What is so exciting about right now is that brands can create content around the brands themselves that is entertaining and inspiring and that doesn’t shy away from the fact that it’s brand marketing,” Mr. Greenberg said. “People appreciate brands and identify with brands.”

What is more singular about many of the viral videos is that they resonate beyond the Internet: the Richard Simmons and body-paint safety videos, as well as other humorous safety videos featuring the New Zealand men’s national rugby team and Rico, the puppet, all convey the required safety information and are shown onboard before flights.

Air New Zealand is also using its Facebook presence for a decidedly more somber purpose — to lend support in the response to the February earthquake in Christchurch, with an estimated death toll of around 180. A special Facebook page by the airline in support of relief efforts has almost 5,000 followers.

According to Mr. Tod, the airline’s marketing manager, the carrier has contributed more than $12 million in reduced or free fares to transport emergency personnel as well as friends and family of victims and survivors.


Mr. Tod said the latest viral videos were already in development at the time of the earthquake, and in one sense helped raise money for relief efforts.

When Mr. Simmons was in New Zealand to shoot the safety video in March, he also led a fund-raising exercise class at an Auckland gym, Les Mills. Among those joining Mr. Simmons dancing onstage at the class, which had a 1980s theme, was Air New Zealand’s chief executive, Rob Fyfe, who sported short pink shorts and a lavender headband. The class raised about $10,000 for response efforts for the Red Cross.

“The earthquake had a significant impact on the airline and its people,” Mr. Tod said. “We had many employees who lost family or friends or lost their homes.”

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