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Pola Zen
October 22nd, 2015

How Airlines Took The “Boring” Out Of Boring Safety Videos

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You may know Pola Zen as the creator of our awesome customer videos. Her guest post shares what’s going on in the airline marketing industry, and why you should care. Airlines are masters at creating interesting content from boring topics, and learning from them can help you spice up your marketing.

What do you do when the content you need to market is boring?

How do you get attention when your viewers have no interest whatsoever in what you are trying to say?

If you are using video for B2B or B2C marketing, you have been (or will soon be) in a situation where you need to make a compelling video that drives traffic and engagement out of content that isn’t exactly blockbuster material. So how do you go about this and still meet those goals?

Tackling the tension of form vs. content: 
To create a successful video you need to balance the tension between form and content. The more interesting your content is to your viewers, the more you can relax on the form – and vice versa. This is not new – Aristotle (some years before video came around), when defining Rhetoric, highlighted a fundamental division between what you say (logos) and how you say it (lexis).

In practice, that means if you have breaking news or juicy gossip, it doesn’t matter if you have a presenter, a news anchor, or a high school video junkie tell you about it. People will want to hear it. But what do you do when your content isn’t immediately engaging or when your viewers have no interest in what you are trying to say?

To find the answer, let’s look at the ultimate challenge of boring, static content: airline safety videos.

How airlines won the crappy content war

Airlines are the best example of companies dealing constantly with both boring content and unengaged viewers.

The airline safety videos have maintained the same content unchanged for over 30 years – seat belts, life vests, emergency exits and weird oxygen masks – and, let’s be honest, it was never too interesting to begin with.

The challenge:

  • They need to transmit vital information to completely uninterested passengers.
  • They are required by law to explain in a serious way things that sound ridiculous (has anyone really learned how to use a seatbelt through the video?).
  • They have been saying the same thing since fried chicken.

For decades they tried their best, putting pretty flight attendants front and center on videos, and despite the sexually charged blowing into the vest bit, their engagement stayed consistently low.

The safety video’s revolution started in 2007 when they finally started doing what Aristotle told them ages ago: when there is nothing exciting about the content, go crazy with the form.

Here is a brief peek into the transformation of this genre from the clever beginnings to the wild ones we get today.

[Tweet “Faced with boring content? Go crazy with the form.”]

Virgin America: The Disrupters

Virgin America was the first to disrupt the safety video snorefest. In 2007, they surprised flyers with a video that offered a new sketch animation style and even some funny jokes. It worked!

Passengers were entertained, actually watched the video, and most importantly, told everyone about it.

This word-of-mouth marketing did wonders for their brand, taking the video’s impact outside of the aircraft and onto the streets. Naturally, other airlines wanted in on the game.

They continued their transformation and in 2013 they broke the mold altogether and released this video that feels like the perfect lovechild between Glee and American Idol and has over 11 million views on YouTube alone (talk about expanding beyond the original goal).

 

Air New Zealand: The Entertainers

In 2009 Air New Zealand tried their luck with a video where the presenters gave the same boring content but instead of clothes had body paint on (!).

Hello risque!

Passengers watched very carefully to see if they could catch a glimpse of “something,” and the payoff comes at the end. You will have to watch it to see what I mean.

Every year they have been releasing a new video and testing the boundaries of this genre. With the growing popularity of the Hobbit, they cleverly started incorporating elements of the fantasy film series into their videos.

Their latest video goes beyond Hobbit fans’ dreams and takes them into this epic world with the original cast and even the film’s legendary director, Sir Peter Jackson. The video has over 15 million views on YouTube and counting. Genius, anyone?

Delta Airlines: The User-Generated Content Marketers

Delta had a rough start but as they say, if at first you don’t succeed, try try again!

In 2008, they tried a ‘same content – new style’ approach in this video that did not do much for Delta, but launched a social persona for the famously duck-faced Deltalina who still has quite a following.

They tried again in 2012 with a more tongue-in-cheek humor version but it was bad. Really bad. The jokes were awkward and the passengers were not impressed. So for the third attempt, they tried a different approach.

Instead of trying to come up with content to engage the passengers, they decided to create a video based on existing user-generated content.

Bring out the gong. This proved more popular than anything Delta had achieved and their third time was indeed a charm.

In May 2015 they released this internet meme packed video that includes the Screaming Goat, the Dramatic Chipmunk, the Double Rainbow guy, Will it Blend and all the other ones that are now engrained into our psyche whether you like it or not.

This is yet another example of the recent trend of huge brands turning to their customers to reach the engagement they are after.

In only three weeks the video gained more than eight million views on YouTube, and the impact is just starting. Along with the main video they created remixed versions of the video that take UGC a step further by encouraging interactivity and engagement.

Listen up all ye video makers!

If you put a play button I am going to click on it so this is a plea to all video-makers. If you didn’t exactly win the lottery on exciting content, take your cue from these airlines and find a way to innovate with the form.

And if, on the flipside, you are stuck with a style or structure that you cannot change, do your best to work the content into something that would nail even you to the chair.

Give us viewers a new experience and we will respond by watching it and engaging with your brand.

And remember: the key to creating good videos is setting an expectation among your viewers and then surpassing it. Sometimes you do this by spicing up what you present, and sometimes by how you present it.

If you are lucky and have the freedom to play with both the what and the how, get ready to hit a home run and see the numbers (or shall we say eye-balls) rolling in.

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