I kept looking at my iPhone until I started hearing the music. On the little screen in front of me, Virgin America was showing a video with singing, dancing – break dancing even – and rap, featuring a cast of at least a dozen fresh young entertainers. Could this be – is it really- yes, it’s the Sir Richard Branson version of the safety instructions!
I watched as a cast of over a dozen dancers cavorted across the screen, with music and rhyming lyrics spelling out the safety instructions. The characters were refreshingly irreverent, ranging from a gorgeous young woman dressed as a nun, whose smart phone was ripped out of her hands by the dancing crew members, to a little boy warning his fellow passengers they’d better not even think of smoking on board. I later discovered that the video featured former contestants from the TV hit, "So You Think You Can Dance."
Richard Branson is known to be an adventurer, never one to play it safe. It’s somehow ironic that Virgin American has taken this big leap forward into integrated brand experience territory with its safety video.
Maybe I’m easily entertained. But I must say I actually watched the whole thing and listened to every word. As Mary Poppins has been known to say, a spoonful of sugar sure helps the medicine go down. Play it for yourself and I think you'll agree.
When I looked online to find the video (which, of course, was on YouTube), I discovered that I must have been hiding under a rock over the last month, because the video had over six million views. Page one of my Google search turned up media coverage of the video from Forbes, The New Yorker, CNN, USA Today and TechCrunch, among others.
What a perfect example of an integrated marketing communications hit: here was a piece of video that was attracting the eyeballs of many thousands of Virgin American passengers, entertaining them while reinforcing the company's trailblazer brand experience, buzzed about online by social media, attracting many millions of impressions, and covered enthusiastically by top-tier media outlets. There's even a digital billboard version of the video in Times Square in Manhattan.
This "...Shockingly Brilliant Customer Experience," as the Forbes headline called it, is not just happening on Virgin American flights. It turns out that Virgin is only one carrier to have launched safety-as-entertainment videos over the past couple of months. According to Forbes, Air New Zealand wins hands-down on the comedy front, with a video starring Betty White. Domestic Japanese carrier StarFlyer has painted its planes on the outside with black ninjas and now shows a safety video featuring animated ninja warriers plucking cigarettes out of passengers' mouths.
Creative marketing and communications professionals have always hidden sales messages in entertainment, and they’ve helped savvy public health organizations and educators develop engaging and educational messages with their help for many years. I remember an HIV prevention message about 20 years ago that was delivered via a serial soap opera-like illustrated love story about the relationship of a young Hispanic couple and the sad consequences of unprotected sex. It was placed on ads in subway cars and had half of New York waiting with bated breath for the next episode. The Virgin America safety video is another example of what can be done when creative communicators are put to work to solve a problem.
Just think of the other mind-numbing but important announcements and directions we’re subjected to that could benefit from a Richard Branson-style production treatment. How about the online video instructions on how to assemble the new gadget you just bought? Or the government tax form with four pages of instructions to read so you can fill it out and pay what you owe? Would we enjoy filing our income taxes any more if the IRS developed an all new customer brand experience with some musical intertainment and dancing? OK, I know the answer to that question!
By: Lucy Siegel
Bridge Global Strategies LLC