OPINION: NZ flight 101 has taken off

Paul Dunne
By Paul Dunne | 18 February 2014

That the latest Air New Zealand safety video featuring bikini-clad models has taken off everywhere demonstrates a lot more than how to adopt the brace position.

You’re no doubt aware of the latest installment in the Air New Zealand safety video series – this time featuring Sports Illustrated swimsuit models in a tenuous tie-in with the magazine’s 50th Anniversary.

If history is any indication, more people will probably view this online than will ever see it on-board. Even the “making-of” teaser (never has the word been used more appropriately) has already attracted over 600,000 You Tube views.

This series of cheeky and cheesy videos started back in 2009, with staff donning nothing but body paint to highlight – among other things - the safety features of the aircraft, Since then, new versions starring the All Blacks, Bear Grylls and even Betty White, as well as a Lord of the Rings tribute, have attracted millions on views online.

There’s no doubt it’s a brilliant piece of marketing, and by far the most engaging brand work Air New Zealand has ever produced. So well done every one involved.

But what can we learn from it, I hear you ask. Besides being reminded how to buckle and unbuckle a seatbelt, there’s a fundamental lesson here we all need to keep top of mind. You can’t convince anyone of anything unless you first grab their attention.

Many years ago, I was tasked with writing the safety video for Qantas. As a young creative in an agency keen to prove its worth on the roster, I put enormous effort into writing what I hoped would be the Palme D’Or of safety videos. My naive opinion that the current video was dull, repetitive and generic was unfortunately met with the response of “well, that’s exactly what they’re meant to be” from our earnest client.

I was shown empirical, irrefutable evidence that the people who watched the safety video pre-flight were more likely to survive a crash. (Presumably, these were the people who knew how to unbuckle after their seat had fallen 30,000 feet to earth). The message from client was clear: this is too important a message to be distracted by some pesky creative idea.

But what Air New Zealand has reminded us of so convincingly, is that if you really want someone to pay attention, you first need to get their attention. The viewer numbers prove that by engaging an audience, we can turn something that people have ignored in the past, into something they actively seek out to watch. It’s a remarkable case study in effectiveness through engagement.

All too often we allow ourselves to believe that what we are saying is so inherently interesting, worthy or important, we don’t need to draw people in.  It’s a fundamental principle that’s easy to overlook when there are deadlines to meet, pitches to win, and stuff to sell.

A story an Arnott’s client once told me reminds me of the latent dis-interest people have for just about everything we do. He was at his local supermarket on a Saturday morning, tidying up the arrangement of his biscuits on shelf, when a shopper breezed past and grabbed a competitor’s product. Never one to miss a consumer research opportunity, he pursued the woman and asked why she’d chosen the competitive biscuit over his own superior product. Her response – “you were standing in the way”.

Let’s face it folks, no one cares. Whether we’re selling snacks or safety. So it’s our jobs to make them. And what the Air New Zealand safety video series has given us is a timely reminder that even when it really is a matter of life and death, we need to make sure we capture people’s interest first.

And by the way, if you’re wondering where my Qantas safety video ended up, the closest to engagement we got was an introduction from Catriona Rowntree telling us how important it was to watch. Now if we’d only thought to put her in a bikini…

Paul Dunne
M&C Saatchi
Creative Director


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