Air New Zealand: Standing out on the world's tarmac

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 16 October 2018

This is from the October issue of AdNews Magazine. To see it in-print first, and to support AdNews, see here. 

With a brand promise of ‘liberating from the ordinary’ and plans to surprise, innovate, out–manoeuvre and challenge convention, Air New Zealand stands out on the world’s tarmac with its quirky attitude and humorous ads. We talk with GM of global brand and content, Jodi Williams.

Air New Zealand’s amusing marketing approach and fun safety videos have become legendary, and no doubt the envy of many.

With in–flight safety clips featuring everything from hobbits and elves to the New Zealand All Blacks and body–painted Air New Zealand staff, together with great locally–led brand activity and even a ‘Summer Wonderland AirNZXmas’ song in collaboration with Ronan Keating, this is one airline that’s not afraid to try something new.

The brand works with True and Host/Havas as its creative agencies and with Carat NZ and Vizeum in Australia for media. Its bold approach has been honoured at award shows across the globe and is representative of the creative flair associated with the country. AdNews spoke with Air New Zealand general manager of global brand and content, Jodi Williams, to discuss what success looks like, getting cut–through in the category, and the challenges facing marketers today. 

In terms of how the company has evolved in the decade Williams has been in situ, she revealed the brand has been investing heavily across the customer journey into products and services, adding that success needs to be “multi–dimensional”.

Auckland–based Williams revealed that Air New Zealand zones in on three key areas — culture, customer and commercial — and has looked closely at the business and made of number of changes that have resulted in “record returns”.

She said the brand has also “invested significantly” in internal culture and its people, of which it has 11,500 around the world.

“The brand specifically has evolved, gained confidence and trust, retained a challenger brand mentality even within our home market, and managed to stand out on a global stage far beyond our means and size,” Williams reflects.

“It’s also our people that truly set us apart from our competitors and other organisations.”

Air New ZealandJodi Williams

Why the cheeky approach to marketing?

We are a small airline on a global stage which challenges us to think differently. We pride ourselves on taking a lead and looking at things in a fresh light, which has helped us gain a presence and share of voice on the global stage that we could not afford through traditional marketing.

Our brand promise is ‘liberating from the ordinary’ and has been part of our DNA for 78 years. Our aim is to keep surprising, innovating, out–manoeuvring and challenging convention. And by taking a unique and somewhat cheeky or challenger brand mentality to our marketing it has helped us demonstrate our energy, personality and commitment to doing things in a different way.

The Economy Skycouch is a perfect example of this; a couch in the sky that you can stretch out on.

What’s been your favourite campaign to work on?

My favourite campaign is a ‘A Better Way to Fly’, from True.

Why did you create the ad?

It started with the challenge that we faced in the Australian market that Australians were familiar with Air New Zealand as a preferred airline for travel from Australia to New Zealand, however when it comes to our long–haul services to North and South America only 4/10 Australians realised that we flew beyond New Zealand.

That presented us with an opportunity to unlock our potential in the market and to establish Air New Zealand as a familiar and accepted global airline by the Australian traveller. The growth framework to achieve that was derived from the communication platform ‘A Better Way to Fly’ through a creative vehicle, a CGI goose named Dave. A migratory bird that has found a better way to fly with Air New Zealand. It was important to inject the humour that Air New Zealand is known for yet integrate those rational, but persuasive messages.

The campaign went about changing perceptions through the establishment of a brand–led campaign driving awareness, integrating into the dreaming/planning/ booking and sharing stages of the journey, identifying clear target audiences through a content–led strategy, that resulted in outstanding results across both brand and commercial measures.

Did the ad work?

‘A Better Way to Fly’ and our character Dave the Goose, voiced by well–known Australian actor, Bryan Brown, achieved significant cut–through and performance with its warm balance of humour, entertainment, and information. It successfully communicated the core long–haul brand messages and positioned Air New Zealand as a fun and friendly, world–class airline which provides a great option when flying to North or South America from Australia. It had a clear vision from the start and drove outstanding business results, also contributing to Air New Zealand winning the #1 Corporate Reputation in Australia 2017 and 2018. By launching in Australia it allowed us to prove the strategy, which gave us the confidence and executive endorsement to take it global. It has now launched in North America, Argentina, China and the UK.

How does Air New Zealand stand out in a cluttered category?

Air NZ has a small share of voice overseas, competing against some pretty big brands and airlines with much larger budgets. Our unique approach to marketing in the past and safety videos have been a great example of this has resulted in generating money–can’t–buy global publicity for our brand. Take safety videos as a great example. Next year we will celebrate our 10th anniversary since the launch of the ‘Nothing to Hide’ safety video with the body–painted cabin crew. This was disruptive. It took an untouched formula and turned it on its head, and we see the positive impact of this through views, global coverage, brand health, and at times, conversion.

What’s the biggest challenge facing marketers today?

There are as many challenges as there are opportunities and it’s definitely an exciting outlook. However, if you don’t actively lead your story someone else will and it might not be in the way you want it told. Brands are not static. They need to remain relevant and adapt to the changing context around them. They need to take a leadership position and have a strong purpose.

There are a few things that are top of mind when looking forward:

  • Don’t lose sight of the customer
  • Seek out talent that is creative, curious, resilient and adaptable with equal emphasis on both the technical and softer skills
  • Demonstrate strong and brave leadership across your organisation – continuing to deliver sustainable value to both the customer and business, and thought leadership
  • Pushing yourself for continuous improvement, looking globally and across different categories
  • Navigating through new technologies and tools that will allow us to drive better quality outputs, greater personalisation and more effective marketing.
  • Identifying new models for working with partners — horizontally connected teams that drive speed, agility, creativity and nimbleness
  • Balancing of short–term strategies against long–term, when long–term can be more unknown than before.

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at

Sign up to the AdNews newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for breaking stories and campaigns throughout the day.

comments powered by Disqus