Travel and hospitality companies generate a lot of print, online text and video material for their customers and prospects, probably more than most other industries. For purposes of this blog post, let’s call it content, but content understood in the broadest definition of the term.
One can make the case that most, if not all of this content – whether a marketing brochure, YouTube video, instructional manual, set of safety guidelines, an extended warranty or guarantee, Twitter post or even a restaurant menu – has a role in furthering the company’s brand. I understand that.
But why has it become de rigueur that an increasing amount of this content should now aim to be comical, titillating or play cynically to an inside joke or knowledge of a movie or TV program that many of us have never seen, or are unlikely to care about?
“Enter the Marketing Departments …”
A recent article by Jane L. Levere in the New York Times, “In the Event of an Air Emergency, Remember What Alf Said,” got me thinking about this. The article covers the efforts of some airlines’ marketing departments to take the traditional safety video and use it, “… as something more – an opportunity to bring buzz to their brands.”
Levere quotes Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst for Hudson Crossing as saying, “Airlines recognize that safety videos are beyond boring, that travelers aren’t paying attention to them. If they’re fun, more people will pay attention to important information. And they will serve as a reason for travelers to fly the airline. It’s a small reason, but small things can help an airline stand out.”
The article includes links to many of these “fun” safety videos, some of which you can find here:
A word of caution: watching all of these in one go can be a bit much, sort of like bingeing on a snack best consumed in moderate amounts.
I’m not pointing out any of these videos in particular for crossing some sort of well-defined boundary that I believe should exist. Safety videos, like all other content generated by an airline, should build the brand and reinforce the company’s identity and professionalism in the eyes of its customers and broader targeted market.
My Safety Video Has More "Likes" Than Yours…
But I get the sense that the creation of this new wave of safety videos has sparked a race, a need for one-upmanship, particularly as it's played out in social media, and that this competition might not be as valuable as the airlines’ marketers would like to think in giving them an edge.
Let’s explore this for a moment with a couple of other examples from the hospitality industry. I’m sure you can think of a few more:
- When I go to a restaurant, I look for a menu that informs me about each entrée or the chef’s specialty in recognizable language, and a server who, while cordial and efficient, isn’t suddenly a new-found friend cracking wise with lame banter. Maybe you’re different, but the impression I have of a restaurant isn’t improved by the jargon or levity of its printed menu or wait staff.
- Cruise ship passengers generally look to get through their welcome aboard safety drill as expeditiously as possible, with succinct, easy-to-understand instructions, clear signage and professional behavior from the staff along the way. Sure, guests like to pull out the camera and post their “life-jacket moment” to Facebook for friends back home. That’s understandable. But passengers aren’t well served by fun and games from the cruise operator at this point of their cruise experience.
I guess I’m saying it’s possible to go a little over the top sometimes in engaging with your customers. Strengthening a brand identity is one thing, but not every communication or interaction with them needs to be funny, cute or a “favorite moment.”
Shortly after the New York Times article was published, Delta tweeted the follow post:
Do one million views of the airline’s new safety video really translate into building customer loyalty or attracting new passengers? While Delta’s 80s-themed video is just getting started, it has a way to go before catching Virgin America’s “Safety Dance,” which attracted more than 8.6 million views on YouTube. I’m all for metrics, but I remain unconvinced that these numbers do much more than make the marketers and social media community managers happy. They’re ratcheting it up, raising the bar, increasing the amperage, but to what end?
And in this, Harteveldt seems to agree to a point. While this social media love-fest provides great exposure to the airlines, “… the question is how many people have flown or will fly” these airlines. He also notes that videos like Virgin America’s might alienate frequent flyers that find it “so annoying it will turn people off.”
I agree. A "Glee"-like knock-off isn’t something I’d welcome, especially after climbing aboard at the end of a long day of meetings, a scramble to the airport in a smelly taxi, and a delayed departure of my flight back home. It doesn’t serve as a reason – not even a small one – to fly with that airline. Just give me a pleasant, nicely narrated safety video straight up, neither shaken nor stirred, dry and no twist necessary.
In my view, some content shouldn’t have to be judged as boring. It is what it is, and there doesn’t need to be a knee-jerk tendency to “fix it” or use it to bring buzz to the brand. These marketing moves don’t always respect the perspective of the customer, relative to what they’re expecting from a piece of content, in this case a safety video.
Non Sequitur Conclusion
Finally, we were saddened to see the passing of folksong writer and performer Pete Seeger last week. Some of his lyrics – well, they’re really from the Book of Ecclesiastes, but we’ll give Pete credit, too – crept up on me as I wrote this post on safety videos:
Turn! Turn! Turn!
To everything there is a season,
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven …
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
I may be guilty of stretching the lyrics to make my point, but there’s a time and a place for fun and entertaining engagement with your audience. But in building your brand, restraint can have a useful and welcome place, too.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to just tell the marketer no!
Addendum: Following my posting this article on February 6, Air New Zealand announced that it has produced yet another safety video. This one–scheduled to go into rotation on February 11–will feature models from Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue. As Pete says, a time for embracing and a time to refrain from embracing.