There’s a hero of Christmas campaigning – it’s not Coca-cola, M&S or even John Lewis.

It’s Canadian Airline WestJet.

While everyone is talking about the big names, we still love this Christmas classic from lesser-known Canadian airline, WestJet.

They’ve got it so right that they make me cry, laugh and smile in five minutes. And impressively they achieved it way before the other brands, back in 2013.

WestJet started as a low-cost alternative but their marketing efforts outstrip the biggest players in the industry. In fact, the viral success of their 2013 Christmas campaign was so impressive that it became one of the most globally shared videos of the year. The video is still talked about today and the campaign goes down in marketing legend.

The campaign begins as WestJet greet their customers in the departure lounge with a ‘virtual Santa’ taking Christmas gift requests as they swipe their boarded passes. Passengers old and young reel off their wishes interacting with a screen in front of them. It’s a nice touch but I doubt anyone could have guessed what was going on behind the scenes…

Unbeknown to the passengers the virtual Santa was actually live and the requests were being carefully recorded. As people boarded the flight, WestJet’s staff went to work getting every single passenger a gift they’d asked for.

As the customers arrived at their destination and waited at a decorated baggage reclaim, WestJet loaded the wrapped and labeled gifts they’d purchased onto the carousel for the unsuspecting passengers. When the conveyor belt started up every passenger was greeted by a wrapped gift – from flat screen TVs and toys to free flights. It’s a moving sight to witness the passengers’ shock and disbelief at seeing their personal wishes come true at an unexpected time.

So what made this campaign so amazing other than the sheer logistics of it all? Well obviously the efficiency at finding gifts for everyone in a short amount of time is impressive but the secret of the campaign is that it demonstrated how committed WestJet’s staff are.

The people featured were team members doing the seemingly impossible. And there’s no better way to show the quality of your employees than by challenging them in a very public way.

The ad was also deeply personal – they did something special for every passenger showing WestJet to not only have incredible attention to detail but also commitment to every individual’s experience.

And like all good marketing, the campaign connected with the customer emotionally at the right time.

But it’s not only the people on camera that WestJet moved – I’ve shown this campaign to colleagues many times and it gets them every time.

So what were the marketing results? With the support of a strategic communications plan, YouTube views and media impressions far exceeded their objectives, contributing to an unexpected and unprecedented increase in sales during the holiday period. In fact compared to the same period in the previous year, WestJet’s sales rose by 86% (Shorty Awards).

The story was spread through social media, communications, and PR; capturing the attention of millions worldwide who’d never heard of WestJet before. They obviously created one of the most impressive live brand experiences for their passengers and one of the first ‘real-time giving’ experiences that many brands have tried to replicate. The activity generated an additional 35 million views on YouTube from 235 countries, prompted 42.2MM Twitter impressions, inspired more than 1,600 media stories and resulted in an 11,000% increase of new subscribers to their YouTube channel (Shorty Awards).

So when you talk about Christmas campaigns, don’t limit your conversation to those well-known brands. Look more broadly and see how your industry can be inspired to think creatively.

Remember that Christmas is one of the best times for the travel industry to launch a campaign ahead of their peak booking period in January. And regardless of your size or budget remember your staff can be your biggest asset when it comes to connecting with the customer.

So don’t miss the opportunity – if you do you’ll be as gutted as the guy who just asked WestJet for socks and underwear…

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