What Financial Marketers Can Learn From WestJet’s Christmas Miracle

This amazing holiday story of corporate benevolence serves financial marketers a buffet of parables about the power of emotive branding.

By John Siracusa, President & CEO at mOSa eBank Marketing Services

When WestJet Airlines created its second annual holiday video, their plan was for it to serve as a holiday greeting to their customers. The airline announced that it would donate flights to the Ronald McDonald House once the video hit 200,000 views, and encouraged viewers to share the video with family and friends.

It turns out that WestJet had no idea what they were in for. The video hit more than one million views on the very first day, and has been viewed on YouTube over 30 million times in under a week. WestJet’s name is in front of the eyes of millions of people they wouldn’t have reached otherwise, and the company comes across as looking like marketing geniuses and incredibly generous.


WestJetChristmas Miracle

As WestJet passengers check in for their flight, Santa Claus asks them what they want for Christmas. When the passengers arrive at their destination, they are surprised to see gifts with all their Christmas wishes pouring out of the baggage claim conveyer. It’s a miracle… of marketing. By being creative and thinking outside the traditional media box, WestJet garnered over 30 million views — and a mountain of goodwill — for less than a penny per view.

What makes this video so special? Why did it go viral? And how does WestJet gain from all this attention? For starters, the video is packed with smiling faces — both children and adults. People simply enjoy seeing other people happy. But more importantly, this particular video is unique. The concept is touching, at a raw emotional level. Had WestJet simply posted a video of smiling customers talking about how much they love the airline, they probably wouldn’t have hit their goal of 200,000 views. Viewers share in the passengers’ experience, as the packages tumble down the belt bewilderment shifts to tears of delight. It strikes a chord, and viewers feel deep empathy.

Key Insight: The most powerful way to build a brand is to connect with customers on an emotional level. Consumers respond to human, emotionally driven content, and they’re likely to share that kind of content with others.

( Read More: Christmas Bonus! ATM to Spew $50s Instead of $20s )

So What’s This Have to Do with Financial Marketing?

Like airlines, financial institutions are often seen as “faceless” corporations. They’re there to perform a specific service without a tremendous level of personal attention. That’s another thing that made the WestJet video so different: passengers received their Christmas miracles from an incredibly unexpected source. Had passengers received the same gifts from their friends or family, it would have been a nice gesture but likely nothing quite as special — certainly not the kind of material that would make a viral video. But when gifts come from an airline

The last thing anyone expects is gifts from an airline their bank. Nice people do nice things for each other all the time, but not banks. What causes everyone’s jaws to drop is when the traditional antagonist — the greedy, self-serving, bureaucratic institution — plays the role of the protagonist… in a Christmas narrative like WestJet’s. We are suckers for holiday stories where once-sour souls like Ebenezer Scrooge and The Grinch reinvent themselves as do-gooders. These characters decided they didn’t like their story when playing the antagonist, so they took action and repositioned themselves as benevolent and caring. In the corporate world, we’d call this “branding.”

A bank is one of the last places a person expects to be treated like a human. With more and more banking transactions being handled digitally every day, person-to-person contact is becoming more rare. It’s easy for customers to forget the people behind the bank, and easy for the bank to forget the humans behind all those account numbers.

Elements of Success

One key is that the WestJet story involves a relatively small population of the airlines customers. Obviously, there was a budget allocated for this sort of thing, with which WestJet could have given the obligatory card along with a small trinket to thousands upon thousands of customers — having a minor impact on many people — or they can do what’s in the video, and have a big impact on a few people. The passengers in the WestJet story were impacted in a major way. There are smiles, laughter, hugging and tears. That makes for a compelling, heart-warming story — one that’s more shareable. That’s the secret to great PR… and a great social media strategy.

Another key element of a marketing campaign like this is the “hard-to-believe” factor. The fact that WestJet put forth such effort is what makes this fun to watch. WestJet showed how much work was involved, with employees scrambling around to purchase and wrap gifts. It’s almost like watching how a magic trick is performed; it’s fascinating, but still amazing to watch even when you know the secret. Again, it’s these types of stories that get shared. Most importantly, it painted the airline as one that will put forth whatever effort is necessary to make sure their customers are happy.

Key Insight: Many financial institution promise five-star service, or that they go the extra mile, or that their employees go above and beyond. Using creative, immersive, experiential marketing allows you demonstrate your values.

( Read More: Guerilla Good Deeds Promote New Branch )

The most important ingredient in WestJet’s viral success is the raw emotion captured. Humans are emotional creatures. When a viewer watches the woman in the video tear up over a simple camera, they feel a connection. Last year’s Christmas video from WestJet featured the airline turning a portion of the airport into the North Pole. Sure, people were happy and it was a fun video, but there was nowhere near the same level emotion of this year’s production. There wasn’t as much “impact” on the customers. It was a marketing gimmick, focused more on the company than on the passengers and what really mattered to them.

WestJet showed everyone — passengers, employees and the general public — that it is a company run by real people who aren’t afraid to have fun. When people think of the airline’s name, this video will come to mind. And when this video comes to mind, so will the emotional pleasure that goes along with it. That’s good branding.

It would take millions of dollars in traditional advertising to buy a fraction of the goodwill WestJet has gained with its Christmas Miracle. WestJet got its name in front of 30+ million people who watched a five-minute video about their brand, and all it took was granting 250 people their Christmas wish. Not only did WestJet make lasting memories for those passengers, but they made their brand memorable. Millions of people are now talking about WestJet, and that’s something you can’t put a price tag on.

Marketing that makes a human connection with customers doesn’t have to be on the same level as a viral video with multi-million views. Simply letting customers know that real people with real concern are part of your organization is what matters. Making an emotional connection with your audience when and where they least expect is a surefire way to etch your brand into consumers’ brains and build a positive image.

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