Marketing Magic: Why #WestJetChristmas Works


“How can we make our brand relevant during the holiday season?”
Did you ask your marketing team that a few months ago?

You might have chosen a sales-driven campaign, such as the commercials we frequently see on TV promoting products and discounts, a brand-awareness campaign that ties in a holiday theme, or the kind of campaign that just wants to say “Happy Holidays” to the company or organization’s existing, supportive and loyal community. Overit’s motion team recently worked with University at Albany on such a holiday greeting.

One of my favorite ads I’ve seen this year is the department store John Lewis’ “The Bear and the Hare,” which mixes hand-drawn 2D animation with stop-frame model animation to create a winter wonderland and a story of a hare’s attempt to make sure a hibernating bear doesn’t miss Christmas. [youtube][/youtube]

The making-of video is pretty amazing.

I didn’t see The Bear and the Hare on TV – I saw it because it had been shared. It was so well done, its story earned my attention rather than paid for it.

This week, #WestJetChristmas earned the attention of millions (more than 13.5 million so far), as WestJet, a Canadian airline, used a team of more than 150 people to deliver personalized gifts to unsuspecting passengers.


Did you cry? I’m guilty of a tear or two. Not because a little boy got his Android tablet (I expected him to say baseball glove or comic books, but this is a different time now), but because of the faces of all involved. The employees who were joyful to be a part of such a day, and the passengers who had their day made a little better, whether they received socks and underwear, a plane ticket home for the holidays, or “a big TV.”

Why Is This Campaign Successful?

There are a lot of holiday campaigns going on, both as paid advertisements and PR stunts. This one stands out for a few reasons:

It’s a concept that appeals to all ages.
I can show this video to my seven-year-old sister, my parents and my grandparents, and they will all appreciate it. There are no suggestive jokes to explain to anyone (we already talked about Joe Boxer potty humor this week). We’ve never heard of WestJet, but now we associate the brand’s name with a good story, whether we’re kids flying with our parents or the adults making the purchasing decisions.

It had a personal touch.
Sure, Santa was essentially in a box, but he was still a live person interacting with WestJet’s passengers. The team was prepped to have Santa say hi to Cohen and ask Cameron if William was beside him (and the kids’ reactions were SO CUTE!). Santa conversed with everyone without a script, and even though it didn’t go flawlessly, it was real interaction that depended on facial expressions, reactions and speaking to one another (all of which are often lost in our text-message society).

The event culminated in hand-wrapped gifts labeled for each passenger. It wasn’t just a holiday discount handed down from corporate – it required the time for listening to each person as an individual to find out what they wanted (and in some cases, needed).

It’s brand relevant.
I hate when commercials have a holiday theme just to acknowledge they know it’s December, while otherwise being just as sales-y as ever. There are some products that simply don’t have an excuse to tie in Santa Claus and Christmas Trees. WestJet brings the holiday spirit to its partners’ airports while its passengers are flying through the air, and the brand does it well – without any pushy sales efforts.

We wish it had happened to us.
The WestJet Christmas Miracle campaign still puts a commercial emphasis on Christmas that Charlie Brown and Linus might not approve of, but it also remembers that this season should be a time for giving. And if you can give back while creating a little magic, it’s even better.

It Caught Our Attention, But Will It Mean Sales?

Yes, sales is the ultimate success metric. It’s what powers our businesses, keeps our employees employed, and for WestJet, keeps its flights in the air.

Erika Tucker suggests it won’t translate to sales, given that travel choices are typically made based on price.

What measurement of success did WestJet executives define in their boardroom? We can’t be sure, except for knowing that 200,000 online views would result in a donation of plane tickets to the Ronald McDonald House Charities. With WestJet’s campaign sponsored by partners such as Best Buy Canada and the airports, the cost incurred by WestJet may have been low enough to justify just wanting to make a few (million) people smile.