A viral Hobbit-themed safety video [below] is just the latest quirky offering from Air New Zealand. Since 2009, the airline has featured on-board safety demonstrations featuring Richard Simmons, the New Zealand rugby team, and even crew members wearing nothing but body paint.
"It provides a great piece of content that is very engaging with our brand and really showcases our personality in a way that we are unable to achieve through traditional marketing," Jodi Williams, head of international marketing, said of the latest effort. "We don't have significant spend in all our international markets and it's a great way to get that cut through and get people engaged and aware of Air New Zealand."
Since its launch two weeks ago, the video has attracted close to 9 million views on YouTube. It includes appearances by director Peter Jackson, two great-grandsons of author J.R.R. Tolkien, Gollum and a pony. Comments on social media were overwhelmingly positive, though a few said safety should be treated more seriously.
The video, which did not involve any ad agency, was also a showcase of New Zealand's local talent. It was made in collaboration with Wellington-based Weta Workshop, best known for its design and effects work on the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The workshop's creative team wrote the script, and it was directed by Josh Frizzell, who is also a Kiwi.
"We knew we had created a fantastic piece of content but you never know... until it launches. Because it's about people who view it and customers onboard who will tell you and rate it," Ms. Williams said. "It's exceeded expectations, we're very proud of it."
While some airlines might shy away from offbeat humor, Ms. Williams described Air New Zealand's brand personality as "liberating and not bland and not ordinary." The tendency to not take itself too seriously might best be summed up by the appearance of CEO Rob Fyfe in the nude-but-body-painted safety video, promoting the airline's "nothing to hide" fare policy with no hidden charges. (It's worth noting here that Mr. Fyfe was last year voted "New Zealand's hottest businessman" in an online poll). He also appeared in the earlier Richard Simmons exercise-themed safety video, wearing pink hot pants.
Air New Zealand, which previously partnered with the "Lord of the Rings" movies, has signed on with the first two installments of the upcoming Hobbit trilogy in a two-year deal.
Yet to come: a plane painted with a Hobbit theme, a dedicated Hobbit channel on in-flight entertainment and hairy Hobbit socks for passengers. A luggage carousel in the Wellington airport will be decorated later this month to look like Middle-earth, with suitcases popping out of a Hobbit hole.
The work was led by DraftFBC Auckland and will be adapted to various markets: North America, the U.K., Germany, Australia, Japan and China.
Ms. Williams, who has spent most of her marketing career at the airline, declined to reveal the budget for the campaign but noted: "We don't have a significant or very large global marketing budget as some, so we're very clever at how we make the most of our opportunities and leverage it."
While the airline's safety videos have generally attracted fans, its marketing hasn't always been controversy-free. From October 2010 until late last year, the airline had a furry mascot named Rico, who hung out with celebrities from Snoop Dogg to David Hasselhoff. Critics derided his comically accented English, bawdy persona and lack of any link to New Zealand.
"He achieved fantastic results for us and we knew he would be polarizing and I think if you want to create tensions and get that cut through you need to be prepared that not everyone is going to like what you're going to do," Ms. Williams said. Plus , she added, "We had a great way to end poor Rico's life."
That campaign concluded with a Clue-like game, a collaboration with Hasbro, to determine which celebrity friend killed Rico during a party at his L.A. mansion.