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Inside WestJet's Christmas Marketing Miracle

  |  December 13, 2013   |  Comments

Canadian airline WestJet used an in-house flash mob to fulfill Christmas wishes -- and its own marketing dreams, with the help of Toronto agency studio m.

Creative agency, Studio M, gave WestJet the gift of a viral video that keeps on giving. Its five-minute Christmas Miracle video has garnered more than 19 million views on YouTube, as well as being picked up by news organizations and blogs all over.

WestJet travelers at three airports could swipe their boarding passes at a digital kiosk at the gate and then speak to a live actor dressed as Santa Claus, only in WestJet's signature blue. Then, 175 WestJet volunteers scrambled to buy the requested gifts for the more than 250 travelers who took part, wrapping them and sending them onto the luggage carousel at travelers' destinations.

The agency handled the creative and execution, beginning the planning about a month ago. It handed off promotion of the video to experiential marketing agency Mosaic.

In advance of production day, Studio M staffers went to the Cross Iron Mills in Calgary and made arrangements with several stores to film on the gift-buying day. Some, including Best Buy, came in as sponsors.

"We figured we would get asked for a lot of electronics," says Bryan Reid, creative director at Studio M. They also brought in Under Armour, another of its clients. All sponsors are listed at the end of the video.

Filming took place on Thursday, November 21, and Studio M posted its final cut - of more than 30 hours of footage from 19 cameras - on Saturday, December 7. WestJet posted it on YouTube on the night of December 8.

By Friday, December 13, the video had garnered more than 19 million views on YouTube, but that's just the beginning. According to Kontera, a content marketing platform, on December 11 alone, there was 67 percent more consumption around WestJet than there was the entire rest of the last month combined. By "consumption," Kontera means how often a term is “seen” online (both text and video), mobile (both text and video) and via social media.

While WestJet didn't beat out the major North American airlines in terms of consumption, it snowed under its scrappier competitors. On December 11, there was 146 percent more consumption around WestJet than there was for Air Canada, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air, and Spirit Airlines combined.


Reid says he was pleasantly surprised that the video resonated with so many consumers. "It's a great story and we pride ourselves on wanting to tell great stories, but I wasn't sure it would do as well as it's doing. At the end of the day, it's a brand," he says.

The campaign goal, Reid notes, was "to make it personal and make people feel heard. We weren't going to get everyone the exact gift they wanted." For example, the woman who wanted a big diamond ring got a lollipop ring and a proposal from Santa at the carousel.

Inevitably, some people missed out. Travelers who carried on all their baggage and breezed by baggage claim left their gifts on the carousel. WestJet will regift those items to folks attending its WestJet Cares for Kids Christmas parties that support six national charities.

And then, there's the humble guy who only asked for warm socks. Let's hope he isn't kicking himself all through the holidays: "I coulda had a monster TV."

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Susan Kuchinskas

Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.

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