Air NZ's bold marketing strategy

BOLD: Air NZ's  "Nothing to Hide" campaign featured staff  wearing nothing but body-painted  uniforms, including chief executive  Rob Fyfe.
BOLD: Air NZ's "Nothing to Hide" campaign featured staff wearing nothing but body-painted uniforms, including chief executive Rob Fyfe.

Forget the 30-second television advertisement, the internet is where it's at for big-brand marketing, Air New Zealand's head of marketing, Steve Bayliss, says.

The airline's record-breaking "Nothing to Hide" campaign and the "Bare Essentials" in-flight safety video, both featuring staff wearing nothing but body-painted uniforms, including chief executive Rob Fyfe, proves the point.

The advertisement highlighted the airline's all-inclusive fares, which exclude extra charges such as for bags and on-board refreshments, to counter the cheap fare promotions by budget airline rivals Pacific Blue and Jetstar.

But more importantly the campaign, designed by Auckland advertising agency .99, had the potential to go "viral" on the internet by quickly spreading through word of mouth, providing Air New Zealand with cheap global exposure.

The entire body-paint campaign has become the fastest-spreading advertisement video around the world on YouTube and the most- viewed content to come out of New Zealand with 10 million views.

Marketers must think about the power of social networking sites such as Facebook, which has more than 300 million members, Mr Bayliss says. "If the membership of Facebook was a country, it would be the fifth biggest country on Earth by population."

Smart phones such as the iPhone will lead to "another monumental change in how we communicate". More text messages are sent every day than there are people on the planet.

The internet and developments in mobile telephone technology have blown away many of the traditional advertising rules in the last year.

"Now is one of the most exciting times to be in marketing because all the rules are being rewritten. We are seeing a sea change in how we communicate and how ideas are spread."

It is no longer good enough to interrupt people's television viewing or radio programme to tell them something that they don't want to hear in the first place.

The old "if I shout at you often enough and loud enough you will believe me" is over.

"That is what advertising was. But we are not in the advertising business, we are in the entertainment business," Mr Bayliss says.

Advertising in the internet age requires marketers to generate ideas that create a buzz by getting people talking about the brand in everyday conversation.

The days of companies spending several million dollars on a big- brand advertisement every two years are over.

Today marketing ideas have a life cycle of between eight and 12 weeks at most, Mr Bayliss says.

And it is cheap. "Nothing to hide" cost less than 15 per cent of a normal ad, was shot in just one day and was dropped after just 10 weeks. Previously the strategy for a successful ad would have been to "keep riding that horse", he says.

"To me the new way of thinking is that in the 12-week period that you are riding that horse, you waste absolutely nothing, which is why we did the safety video."

Viewership of the much-ignored in-flight safety videos on the domestic Boeing 737s has gone through the roof onboard and online, thanks to the body painted cabin crew and pilot pointing out the nearest exit with little more than strategically placed safety equipment to preserve their dignity.

"We saw it as an opportunity to take the 'Nothing to Hide' idea and effectively give it a bit of jet power," Mr Bayliss says.

Passengers particularly get a kick out of it when they realise that the person pouring their coffee is also in the video.

Mr Bayliss dismisses critics who say the safety video compromises the standing and professionalism of the crew.

"I don't buy that for a moment. There is a massive difference between someone's professional capacity, which we trust, and their ability to be a human being . . . their ability to have a bit of fun and a sense of humour."

BUT THE speed and ease with which consumers can communicate with each other also poses big risks for companies if they do not deliver on the promise.

"Any consumer has the power to dob you in, and if they can find other consumers who agree, they can create a level of momentum against you which is phenomenal," Mr Bayliss says.

A successful internet campaign requires more leg work and careful targeting than traditional advertising. Simply putting a video on YouTube does not work.

"Nothing to Hide" was launched by putting a "making of" video of the advertisement on YouTube and sending links to it to influential bloggers and journalists around the world. This created an anticipation a few days before the advertisement began showing on television.

"You have to be masterly at knowing where you can seed the conversations."

If the New York Times picks up on a campaign it almost guarantees a massive online response.

This sort of marketing is not as passive as traditional advertising and requires a lot more work, Mr Bayliss says. But if it gains traction the rewards can be huge.

Mr Bayliss, 42, launched his marketing career with the Speight's "Perfect Girl" beer advertisement as the brand's manager for brewer Lion Nathan.

Five years ago Air New Zealand lured him home from Sydney, where he was Coca-Cola Australia's business development manager.

Then-managing director Sir Ralph Norris recognised that brand development needed to be a much bigger part of the airline. Previously the marketing department was more like an advertising department. There was a lack of understanding about the different ways that consumers experience the brand and the different marketing strategies available, Mr Bayliss says.

And staff had little idea what it meant to be an "Air New Zealander", as they now refer to each other. He says Air New Zealand is a national brand that people have a natural affinity with, even when the airline faced collapse in 2001, forcing a government bailout.

"It is not a brand that people go, 'Yeah I hope they fail, those rotten buggers'."

So Mr Bayliss set about revamping the "character" of the Air New Zealand brand, starting with the remodelling of the Koru lounges, used by frequent fliers.

"The quality of the job we do here will have a more profound impact on the brand than any ad, or chair, or gate lounge." Yet staff behind the lounge "permissions desks" considered their job to be gatekeepers, tasked with stopping passengers with expired membership cards from gaining access.

The desks were replaced with free-standing pods where staff welcome passengers to the lounge as if they are inviting them into their home.

It is about creating a stage for staff to perform at their best, Mr Bayliss says. Consumers cannot feel an affinity to a corporate, but they can feel an affinity to the people it employs.

The Dominion Post