Is Christmas becoming the Super Bowl for Airlines?

January 6, 2016 Branding pass

Header Santa Claus Christmas for airlines

There is a phenomenon that occurs every year. An earthquake in the advertising industry. Yes, you've guess it. The "Big One", where brands invest US$4.5 million to present a 30 second video ad to 150 million viewers across the United States. Despite the traditional two aeronautical seasons or a last minute route opening (check the Cake of the Day on Anna Aero), there has never been a single time of year, an airline "adstravaganza" if you will, at any particular time during the year. Given the cost, it is unlikely that any airline would be able (or even likely) to spend so much money for a single showing of an advertisement (except maybe the Gulf Carriers). Instead, many airlines (and a few airports) are using Christmas as a nexus for their promotions, developing videos and placing them online, with the hope that they will go viral and reach far more than 150 million viewers. These short films are getting more and more sophisticated, exciting, interesting, and are being delivered as part of an integrated promotional strategy. How are airlines using Christmas as the climax of their creative communication? Let's take a look:

Christmas: the perfect moment. 

The celebration of Ramadan is deeply rooted in the Middle East. Halloween is primarily celebrated in North America and the UK. Carnival is an event mainly in the Caribbean and Brazil. Christmas, however, is typically the largest economic stimulus for many nations around the world as sales increase dramatically in almost all retail sectors. Holiday travel provides one of the greatest concentrations of passengers annually. So, it is not surprising that airlines are tapping into this event with engaging movies (with both good and less engaging content - see The Best and Worst of Airlines Holiday Wishes). And it's the perfect time too! It's interesting to see how airlines paused their aggressive selling strategies for a moment by using humor (Finnair, TAP, Hawaiian or La Compagnie), solidarity (Delta, WestJet or Air Canada) or self-mockery (British Airways, KLM) to convey a kinder, gentler message, which they hope will make you more likely to use the airline in the future. 

From confidential to major trend. 

Last year, early adopters such as Air New Zealand, Finnair, etc... released video-ads pulling emotional strings with humor, inspiration, dramatic stories or several hooks at once. In 2015, new comer creative players such as Hawaiian, and, surprisingly Eva Air and Iberia, followed this trend with some very interesting concepts. Heavy-weight companies such as Delta or Air Canada delivered 100% emotional short films while Singapore Airlines or Air France continue to use old school strategies. As with the many well-known and oft-viewed safety announcements (see Simpliflying insights), creative agencies will need to look now for other ways to create a buzz with emotional or inspirational content. 

Integrated marketing strategies. 

What is now most interesting is how holiday wishes are evolving. With the complete fragmentation of media, airlines implement marketing activities across multiple channels such as planes' special liveries, which are among the most shared avgeek images around the globe: 

Finnair Livery Santa Claus

... or an Instagram photo contest

Social Media Game Santa Claus

Despite its creativity, Finnair failed to reach a large number of customers with this 2014 integrated campaign, so their 2015 efforts focused on four different movie/ads in partnership with Finnavia. Just brilliant! 

Slowly but surely, Christmas content is getting pushed not only to platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and/or Instagram.   

Virgin Tweet Eva Air Tweet

but also being distributed through traditional public relations channels looking for buzz among the blog influencers. 

Virgin PR Event WestJet PR Adweek


With integrated campaigns, airlines are getting a better hold on social media and are realizing that people enjoy sharing ads announcements or even co-branding activities that catch their fancy (see Virgin Atlantic below). 

Within the couple of years, it won't be surprising to see the path which was tried unsuccessfully by Finnair in 2014 and Air New Zealand to be followed by other airline marketers. 

We also bet some rock stars or TV show hosts will be hired to reach beyond the airlines' traditional customer base.

Some 360° strategies likely to be used, include:

  • teaser prior to the event - it is a simple and effective way to get people talking. People who see a "Christmas sneak preview" are going to behave like people who see a sneak peek of ads. Feeling like members of an exclusive group, they want to "break the news" and be the first to make a public judgment on the experience. Allowing a select group of influencers to be early fans on social networks generates a payback in social currency. 

This year, British Airways started early its campaign (Sept 8th)

But we don't know what happened next? If you have any clue, let us know. 

This campaign offered a micro-site to view the ad movie, and allowed fans to send a post-card from 106 different counties in the UK. Unfortunately, it appears that the website was rather confidential, which made the campaign ineffectual 

British airways Christmas Game

while Iberia's dedicated website performed better. 

Header micro site Iberia


  • Holiday. Like Delta, when the airline's goal is to spark real conversation (not just shares and re-tweets) blending cause marketing with a content strategy makes lots of sense. It gives to viewers a moral motivation to join the campaign and helps to build respect for the airline. 
  • Post-holiday. Even when airlines run great holiday campaigns, the buzz dries up shortly after Christmas. They built up anticipation, ran great short movies which generated social engagement during the holiday season... and then suddenly ends. Finnair is trying to carry the buzz past Christmas, but whether they will succeed or not has yet to be determined. We are really confident in their success (see below). 


Here is what you've been waiting for! The 2016 curated list of Best and Worst Content, sorted according to Innovation Diffusion Theory. 


- Innovators - 

Over 2014, a "Very Kiwi Christmas" got 40K viewers (+38% during the whole year) with a less emotional scenario. This new movie is already has already reached 73K viewers. Objective met!

Here is the series of Finnair/Finnavia videos. Brilliant example of crafting a brand story. 


- Early Adopters - 

More discreet in adoption than innovators. It is quite unusual that two (now three) airlines played with almost the same concept (at least the same knitting pattern!). 





- Early Majority - 

Airlines adopting this style of communication after a longer time than the two previous categories. 




- Late Majority - 

While late majority is usually skeptical about innovation, these airlines are using solidarity as a corporate tone.





- Laggards - 

Typically with an aversion to change, laggards tend to be focused on traditions. It is really surprising for Air France who has been recently ranked #1 spot in travel on Youtube



We invite you to share your opinion so please leave a comment or contact us directly. As always, feel free to share this post with your friends and colleagues!

Views may evolve over the year. This is a completely subjective and entirely debatable ranking. The opinions and analyses expressed on this blog/website are based on our research and are for the sole purpose of providing general information about our agency and our practices. See more at

Header picture courtesy of Finnair. All Airlines logos/movies are subject to copyrights. 

Special thanks to Alan Gluck from consulting firm AEC2 for his remarkable support on these blogs. He can be reached at A warm big up also to Jason Umino, from Umino Digital.


About the Author

Branding pass

We are a small, flexible, and full-service branding agency specializing in digital, print, and public relations. Whether you’re looking for consultation on web design, social media strategy, or full-fledged marketing campaigns, we are here to help your business flourish.

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