Hobbit on board

Whether it's clever marketing or a genuine desire to protect passengers, airlines are making safety videos fun — with Air New Zealand leading the way.

Who wants to sit through a boring airline safety video that drones on about keeping your seatbelt fastened? Keep the entertainment coming.

Chances are by now you've seen Air New Zealand's new "Hobbit" safety video (check it out above). And chances are you haven't set foot on one of its planes.

Such is the power and appeal of clever safety videos, people who aren't even flying are voluntarily sitting down to watch a three-minute spiel about how to store cabin baggage and the location of the nearest exits.

Less than three weeks since it launched, Air New Zealand's Hobbit safety video has already attracted more than 9,248,829 views on YouTube, following on from the airline's huge success with other fun and funky safety videos.

The airline's head of international marketing, Jodi Williams, says its non-conformist safety videos have together attracted more than 22 million views on YouTube, which doesn't take into account the number of people who have watched them on planes.

The Hobbit video, which features characters from the much-anticipated movie due to open in Australia in December, will run until early 2013 and work has already begun on something to take its place.

"We're very excited about the Hobbit one; we believe it is the best yet, and there are no plans to stop [making non-standard safety videos] at the moment," Williams says.

Though Air New Zealand largely pioneered the idea of fun safety videos, many other airlines have now caught on to the concept.


Since the Kiwi carrier surprised passengers in 2009 with a video featuring cabin crew and pilots wearing nothing but body paint, other airlines have brought in celebrities, cartoon characters, small children and football teams to do their own videos.

Qantas recently used Olympic and Paralympic athletes during the London Olympic Games, and Turkish Airlines has used football players from Manchester United, although neither video was a patch on Air New Zealand's entertaining effort with the All Blacks.

Many airlines have gone with cartoon characters, although most of these videos have been presented in a serious way.

Some have used stylised animations for their safety advice.

Others have tried throwing in music and dance, with some confusing results.

Bangkok Airways has been using a video featuring flight attendants singing and dancing on the tarmac, while Philippine airline Cebu has had attendants dancing while they show how to put on lifejackets.

One dancing safety video that was clearly not intended to be serious was Air New Zealand's "Fit to Fly" featuring fitness personality Richard Simmons. The video, which features disco music and daggy aerobics outfits, has had more than 2.6 million hits on YouTube.

The Turkish airline Pegasus and the British holiday airline Thomson have taken a different tack by using young children to do their video safety demonstrations ... with somewhat painful results.

Why are airlines going to so much trouble and expense to make their videos stand out?

Is it a determined effort to get us to watch the safety spiel or is it just a clever marketing angle?

According to Williams, it is both. She says airlines always struggle to motivate passengers, particularly frequent travellers, to watch safety demonstrations and the fun videos have made a huge difference.

Feedback is that travellers are putting down their newspapers and tuning in to the safety videos.

"Safety videos have been, or are, so boring and people pay little attention to them at all," Williams says. "Our videos are a way of getting the customers to engage and actually watch."

However, Williams says the videos have also had huge marketing value, buying the airline publicity it could not otherwise afford.

With consumers sharing the videos through social media, it has been a valuable opportunity to communicate the "personality" of the airline to a broad audience.

Williams says the success of the safety videos was a big factor in securing a two-year partnership with Warner Bros to be a marketing partner for the Hobbit film trilogy.

"One of the things that attracted Warner Bros to us was the ability for us to do a few different things," she says. "The safety video was a big part of it."

A laughing matter?

Air New Zealand has had its safety team involved in every aspect of making its safety videos, Jodi Williams says.

From scripting to filming, an internal team has ensured the videos meet safety requirements in order to obtain the requisite sign-off by aviation safety authorities.

"We have key messages we know we have to communicate," Williams says. "When we pioneered the first one and demonstrated that more people were watching, then we could get approval to do more."