Christmas Miracle Goes Viral

By Lori Turner-Wilson

Canadian airline WestJet created a viral marketing sensation this holiday season. It was the second installment in what the brand has proclaimed an annual tradition.

Last Christmas, the brand converted one of its gates into the North Pole as a flash mob ensued, singing and dancing to “Deck the Halls.” The resulting video garnered more than a million views on YouTube.

Building on that success, the airline planned a Christmas miracle for a group of passengers traveling to Toronto. Before boarding, these passengers were beckoned to a video screen with a live feed of St. Nick donning a WestJet blue Santa suit. Each was asked what they wanted for Christmas. WestJet elves recorded every wish, racing against the clock to purchase, wrap and deliver the gifts to the Toronto airport before the flight landed. When the conveyor belt started, passengers screamed and cried as the gifts they had just asked Santa for appeared before their very eyes.

WestJet, a brand known for its unique, employee-friendly culture and commitment to catering to its customers, found a way to engage a group of passengers and passersby via a stunt marketing campaign that inevitably created lifelong brand loyalty. WestJet then created a viral video and launched it via YouTube. To date, that video – essentially a subtle five-minute homage to the brand – has been viewed by more than 32 million on YouTube alone. Considering that a high-concept TV spot can cost more than six figures to produce, let alone the millions in media purchased to air that spot, WestJet’s viral marketing sensation easily generated millions in free, feel-good advertising. The brand’s VP of communications and community relations, Richard Bartrem, reported that it cost well below $100,000 to execute the campaign.

With YouTube videos, the rule of thumb is to keep it shorter than two to three minutes maximum. Imagine WestJet’s jubilation as it garnered attention from over 32 million for its lengthy five-minute video.

If WestJet’s campaign is sparking ideas for your brand, keep these tricks in mind. The tone must be appropriate and authentic versus overly promotional in nature. Stunt marketing works best when participants are given the opportunity to stumble across your stunt and figure it out on their own, versus a high-concept stunt that simply feels like an overt ad.

Get as much bang for your buck out of your stunt as possible, making sure you repurpose the experience and content across multiple channels.

When done well, stunt marketing can garner the kind of brand experience and loyalty that usually only Santa could deliver.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and CEO/Founder of RedRover, a sales training and marketing firm based in Memphis, Tennessee, www.redrovercompany.com. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).