In 2009, Air New Zealand made international news with a cheeky in–flight safety instructional video, using staff in body painted uniforms. The airline hasn't strayed far from the blogosphere since, and their latest big budget social media campaign has helped them score all kinds of good vibes from Generation Y, while QANTAS continues to nose dive.

Superb branded YouTube and Facebook pages have made up the backbone of the 'Rico' campaign, which kicked off late last year, featuring a talking, slightly perverted animal puppet created by the Jim Henson Company. The videos were initially well received and scored some big hits, but Air New Zealand have taken the promotion in to new territory and earned the plaudits of the New York Times and recent touring celebrity marketer Jeffrey Hayzlett. Marketing magazine spoke with social media pro and sometime contributor Matt Granfield on what he thinks of the airline's work.

"I think they've thought 'let's make a viral video'. Marketing people like to say you can't set out to make a viral video, but you can. If you get a celebrity and make it funny, it will go viral. They've put Snoop Dogg in it and made it funny.

It's testament to what a big social media budget can do. If you create controversy, people will talk about it. Using Snoop Dogg is a good way to get coverage in main media. Earlier, they were getting a bit of coverage for Rico, Air New Zealand probably felt all right about it, but they need that something extra to get mainstream coverage."
 
On why the Air New Zealand website doesn't integrate at all with the video content

"They don't want to alienate their business travelers, they don't want to continue the campaign over to their website.  On the website Rico is not there helping customers, so they're not sending a message they don't take flying seriously."

On why they used American celebrities in the videos

"Air New Zealand are potentially going after a world market with this, but the story is only going to be big in New Zealand. Snoop Dogg is a big sell out, so it's not a huge deal to get him. It's a bit like the movie Lost In Translation, Americans can do stuff overseas so they can earn some money without impacting their reputation at home."

"The in-flight video is great, people will watch the whole thing. Qantas tried it with John Travolta, but the employees hate it, flight attendants hate it. QANTAS have got hero pilots. They had a pilot who saved that plane in Malaysia, employees think he should be doing it, not John Travolta. Air New Zealand isn't cheesy, though, they're talking to young people. This campaign is for the younger generations traveling to US, they will identify with the brand and want that fun experience."

The payback for the campaign

"They've gone risque, if they went with a family vibe, it would been cheesy. The videos are interesting. It's humour that people like, not sanitised corporate humour, so they're a bit brave in doing that. They've looked at Virgin and how they've made flying fun, and adopted that. It's just a branding exercise, they've thought 'let's get creative'.

They're getting lots of views, mainstream press coverage, and free PR. They might have paid Snoop Dog millions but they're getting free coverage. So the way to measure the success of the campaign is to look at the views for the videos, and look at the ratios of likes and dislikes. People who are consuming the content are responding well, giving positive comments."