Inspiration? Airline makes a Hobbit of it

SKY-HIGH HOBBITS: The latest Air New Zealand safety video.
SKY-HIGH HOBBITS: The latest Air New Zealand safety video.

Two campaigns released this month reveal just how precious and elusive the quest for an original, compelling, entertaining and successful creative idea can be.

Air New Zealand launched the fourth in what has proved to be a superbly funny, original and engaging idea: the wacky in-flight safety movie.

Where most airlines bore the pants (and socks) off their passengers with unimaginative, tiresome and patronising in-flight videos, Air New Zealand has tried something different in the form of a safety video featuring attractive airline pilots and crew wearing nothing but body paint.

It is bold and attention-grabbing, using the rules of creative advertising to shake up and redefine a dry, stuffy medium.

As head of international marketing Jodi Williams said: "The No 1 role of a safety movie is to get people to watch it. The ‘nothing to hide' idea certainly did that."

Emboldened by the success of this category-busting approach, the airline followed up with an equally successful video featuring the All Blacks rugby team.

After that came an amusing but somewhat irritating video of fitness guru Richard Simmons demonstrating in-flight safety in the camp manner of a 1980s-style workout show.

"Anything creative is always polarising, particularly if it's over the top," Williams admits. "All our videos have had a lot of admiration, and equally some criticism, but we are clearly getting terrific brand cut-through. Watching the reaction of first-time viewers, particularly in-bound, is fantastic."

Not that there will be many people who are first-time viewers of the latest epic, released online this month. An instant global viral hit, it's an in-flight safety movie based on The Hobbit and has already been viewed by millions of eager pairs of eyes long before their owners have set foot anywhere near the airline.

Created in conjunction with Warner Bros, Sir Peter Jackson and his company Weta, the four-minute safety film features genuine Air New Zealand staff, garbed as elves and wizards, along with a host of Middle-earth fans, including ghouls, orcs, nerds and Tolkien's grandkids.

There are in-jokes aplenty, and clues for an online competition. Gollum makes an appearance, as does Jackson. Needless to say, somebody loses a ring.

A special Hobbit 777-300 will be taking to the skies soon, a baggage carousel is being redesigned as Bag End, and you'll be able to choose breakfast from a Hobbit-themed menu wearing your Hobbit in-flight socks.

Part ad for the films, part ad for the destination, the video is a massive brand-building exercise for the airline.

Explaining how Jackson and Warner Bros were attracted to "come aboard", Williams says: "We're not ordinary. We think outside the category. We have a unique personality, and an in-house ethos. We were able to offer a unique creative idea."

Interestingly, and perhaps tellingly, the entire creative idea was hit upon without any ad agency involvement.

Another big creative campaign launched in Australia this month was for Victoria Bitter beer. And in this instance the quest to regain the magical creative property that was foolishly discarded over a decade ago has been a perilous marketing journey with as many deadly twists and turns as the epic journey of Frodo Baggins and his cohorts.

This final instalment of an exhausting saga could perhaps best be described as "The return of the ring-pull".

"For a hard-earned thirst, you need a big cold beer, and the best cold beer is Vic," was the original slogan, a piece of copywriting gold that inspired generations of blue-collar workers to adopt the brand as their own.

Then it all went horribly wrong. The idea was deemed lacking in appeal to today's inner-city crowd who populate most ad agencies.

New approaches were tried, such as a symphony made out of beer bottles and a group of young blokes grabbing a kebab.

The account moved and the planners eagerly identified new classic Aussie tribes, such as "men punching above their weight". The metros, hipsters and other inner-city dwellers were unimpressed, preferring their boutique beers.

So the marketers hit upon another brainwave - to water down the product.

"I am not f...... happy with the taste of the ‘new' product you are providing and you can shove it," complained a "loyal VB consumer for 23 years" to Carlton United Breweries.

The account moved again.

Now it has come full circle. CUB has apologised and returned both the beer and the advertising to its origins, journeying to a land as alien to most ad agencies as the plains of Mordor - blue-collar land.

A full-strength beer for blokes with sweaty shirts and hard-working hands. A happy ending, after all. Rowan Dean is an Australian Financial Review columnist, Spectator associate editor, media commentator, television panelist, creative director, film director and copywriter. Twitter: @rowandean.

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