Controversy in Paradise

Over the past few years, Air New Zealand has made a habit of courting viral publicity with their on-board safely videos. I’m not sure when it first started, but I think it was probably with their “Bare Essentials” video from 2009. 

They are back in the news again this week because of their safety videos… this time because of swimsuit models. Possibly a bit more risqué than earlier episodes.

The “Bare Essentials” safety video followed on from an earlier advertising campaign showing employees (including Chief Executive Rob Fyfe) wearing only body paint while acting out standard air and ground crew roles. Both the advertising campaign and the safety video were a little controversial but widely acclaimed[citation needed]

Since then, Air New Zealand has made a series of safety videos that have tried to get more bang-for-the-buck than they would ordinarily deserve. These videos have included Snoop Dogg, Richard Simmons, Betty White, and Bear Grylls. There have also been a handful of videos with more locally developed talent, including the All Blacks and the cast from the Lord of the Rings movies. These earlier videos are all available on the Air NZ YouTube page. They have mostly been a little annoying and sentimental but also endearing and entertaining. 

That’s the history. Now for the current storm: the airline has just released a new video this week that seems to be creating more debate and controversy than usual.

In our more-enlightened post-politically-correct era, Air New Zealand has, perhaps unwisely, chosen to partner with Sports Illustrated for the 50th anniversary of the magazine. Specifically, they have joined up with Sports Illustrated swimsuit models.  The video was promoted a few days ago with a teaser “making-of” video. The negative comments started pretty soon thereafter. Without anyone having seen the video, it was proclaimed that it wold be inappropriate and demeaning to women. 

The video has now been released on YouTube (and presumably shown on the aeroplanes as well) and the criticism has died down a little. The idea was always going to be worse than the reality. It was never going to be naked models cavorting and always something  restrained that you could show your mother.

Air New Zealand is reasonably small on a global scale and any sort of word-of-mouth or viral advertising that they can exploit will save them money. This has been their tactic over the past few years and has worked reasonably well for them. This current video is a continuation of that marketing plan. Advertising an airline worldwide is an expensive proposition, especially for an airline like Air New Zealand that relies on inbound tourism by foreigners more than most since the domestic market is relatively small and saturated.

This is getting them promotional buzz, especially in the US, without spending large sums of money. However, if the video is too saucy, there could be a backlash and releasing the video could prove to be a poor decision.

There have been a fair number of negative articles in the press, such as this, this, and even this from the Daily Mail. I’m sure the Daily Mail is  running the articles as it provides them a chance to show their usual faux-outrage, along with some free images of scantily-clad women. The Herald articles also seem to contain a little bit of faux-outrage too. 

Life gets a little boring if everything is safe and predictable. However, the video is a little on the edge. I think it’s fairly tasteful yet borderline. I’d rather not see companies using sex to sell their product and I think Air New Zealand comes on the right side of it this time. But, only just.


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