WestJet’s Viral Miracle

From the Harlem Shake to Jimmy Kimmel’s “Twerking Mishap” prank, 2013 has had its number of viral videos, but one more managed to sneak in just before the final bell: WestJet’s Christmas Miracle.

In case you missed it, a low-cost Canadian airline decided to surprise its customers for the Holidays, building a “North Pole” at check-in, where passengers from two Calgary-bound flights were asked to scan their tickets and tell a Santa Clause on live feed the #1 item on their Christmas list. WestJet employees then scrambled while the flights were in the air to purchase the presents. When families arrived at the carousel, they were greeted by wrapped and individually labeled gifts, ranging from socks to big screen TVs, and tablets.  But the airlines goodwill didn’t just end there: once the video reached 200,000 views, they pledged to donate flights to families in need.

As of the writing of this post, the video has 30,107,797 views, a full million more than it did just an hour ago. The video was posted December 8th.

The popularity if viral marketing is pretty clear: it’s an affordable way to massively distribute a brand’s message, which in turn drives profits and sales. Yet it’s still a little bit of a gamble; there’s always a chance that the video or campaign comes out a flop. Moreover, recent studies have been pointing towards little correlation between viral “hits” and sales spikes – a particularly salient topic in this case, as consumers make purchases based on affordability over brand loyalty when it comes to air travel. So why did WestJet take on this endeavor?

It’s definitely a genius move to brand WestJet as a friendly, fuzzy, feel-good airline, there’s no denying the smiles on the faces of passengers and employees alike. As this Smart Company article points out, it’s a branding move without a revenue objective. The total cost of making the video, though undisclosed, was likely a fraction of the cost of a traditional TV ad campaign—and with a much wider reach. Millions of people who would have never heard of WestJet airlines are now familiar with the brand, and moreover, have a positive outlook of it.