December 11: That Viral WestJet thing

Bear with me while I get Scroogey on you. But am I the only person who found this video really kind of gross? I mean, I cried (damn background music and cute tiny children) but it also gave me just an icky, icky feeling.

In this holiday promotion for WestJet, passengers boarding a plane were invited to make virtual requests of Santa via video feed. While the plane was in the air, volunteers from WestJet’s staff went out and bought and wrapped all the stuff. When the plane landed, everyone’s gifts came tumbling down the luggage carousel, leading to much joy and weeping. They call it a “Christmas Miracle.”

First of all, this is basically everything I hate about Black-Friday-last-quarter-consumer-culture. Christmas means spending huge amounts of money on crap no one needs and handing it out ostentatiously! EXPENSIVE ELECTRONICS FOR EVERYONE BLAAAAAARHG! (I confess that I love the dad who just wants new socks and underwear).

Look, I’m no minimalist. Christmas is totally about presents, and I love getting ’em and I love giving ’em. I’m not anti-santa or anti-present. But still, the mountains of plastic, and the fact that they are not chosen with care and given with love, but to promote an airline, just make me gag a little.

Second of all, the very, very, very best thing any airline could do for any customer at holiday time is make it easier to travel. Faster, cheaper, smoother, on-time, pleasant, etc. Among the many gifts, WestJet did give out a few vouchers for a free trip home for the holidays, which is a wonderful promotion, and I applaud them for it. But other than that, basically what they have done here is make travel harder for everyone involved:

  • They’ve added yet another step to the flight credentialing and boarding process; yet another opportunity to misplace your boarding pass or your children.
  • Is everyone who was on this flight going to get a free checked bag so they can carry home with them all the extra baggage you just gave them?
  • What about the couple who got a large screen TV? Are you going to insure ship that for them? Or return it and give them a credit for the same TV at a Best Buy near where they actually live?
  • What about the family that didn’t see the Santa kiosk and now their kids are the only ones on the plane who didn’t get presents and they’re throwing a tantrum at the airport?
  • What about the fact that now everyone’s luggage is delayed by 40 minutes (as well as the luggage of anyone else on any other plane)?

Not to mention, now all the kids have gotten their main, big Christmas wish. Maybe for some parents this is a relief. But I have to imagine that for many/most, it will send them into panic mode, since they’re still on the hook for putting stuff under the tree Christmas morning. They have to come up with affordable, desirable alternatives when their kid has just received their biggest Christmas wish from freakin’ airline Santa.

This holds true for the parents and their presents, too, actually. What mom asking for a camera for Christmas has not researched the options–prices, functions, features–and arrived at one or two specific models that meet her needs? What do you bet she did not get one of these, because–silly woman!–it didn’t occur to her to bring a product number with her to the airport? And now, she never, ever will get the camera she actually wants, because WestJet took the liberty of getting her the one they felt would be suitable.

If the airline *really* wanted to give a Christmas present to their holiday travelers? Try offering free drinks and free movies/TV for passengers on *all* flights , not just one, from, say, December 23-December 26.

But unfortunately, a bunch of mellow people wearing their seatbelts and happily watching movies doesn’t generate great social media fodder.

This isn’t goodwill or Christmas spirit or charity. This is brilliant marketing by the airline. I bet they did the whole thing for less than $200,000. And they got FIVE MINUTES of uninterrupted exposure to MILLIONS of softhearted people who had never even heard of this airline before. These gifts were probably paid for out of the marketing budget, and the person who came up with the idea probably got to keep all the money they saved not buying TV airtime.

They’ve manipulated their customers into advertising for them, for free. God bless us, everyone!

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