A few holiday lessons learned

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Clay Adams | January 7th, 2014

With the 2013 Christmas season now a fading memory, there are a few things that came to mind as lessons learned over the holiday season.

1)      Leftover turkey, no matter how hard you try, will always just be leftover turkey.

2)      Shopping malls – like leftover turkey – are something to avoid on Boxing Day.

3)      While some say the only two guarantees in life are death and taxes, you can add a third over Christmas – rising gasoline prices.

4)     It is possible to call Christmas just that – Christmas – without actually being mortally threatened, abused or deported. So who was it who said that “Christmas” was no longer a politically correct term?

What also struck me was the length that some companies went to in using Christmas as an opportunity to build awareness, loyalty and, presumably, sales. Take, for example, the now world-famous Westjet Christmas Miracle video. If you haven’t seen or heard of it, then you are clearly in the minority of Canadians given it has been viewed over 34.6 million times (only slightly less than the number of people actually living in Canada). The premise is endearing. Place a kiosk with an interactive Santa at an airport lounge, encourage passengers to tell that video Santa what they would like for Christmas and then – using the miracles of technology and credit – go and buy the things on those wish lists just in time for them to roll off the carousel in a tear-jerking surprise. What better way to wipe away the weariness of a five-hour flight than with a free laptop? Peanuts, however, might have been cheaper but they, on most flights, are not free.

A few thoughts

The purpose of the video (and it is, in fairness, a great idea) is to have viewers “connect” with the company by seeing them as a customer-focused airline with a flair for innovation. It is a reputation Westjet has worked hard to build and been successful in doing so. Its April Fools videos of Kargo Kids, pet-friendly cabins and helium-filled aircraft are true marketing gems. However, the Christmas Miracle video did leave me with a few thoughts:

1)      One has to feel sorry for the poor bugger who asked for socks and underwear. How did he feel when he saw the high-tech tablets, expensive luggage and big-screen TVs come rolling off the carousel? Hope he is enjoying his tighty whities.

2)      What about those Westjet passengers on Carousel Nine? Teach them to fly from somewhere other than Ontario! The nerve.

3)      Would the idea have been viewed as positively if done by Air Canada? I suspect not, simply because Air Canada brings too much baggage (which it probably lost anyway) to such a stunt. For it to work, you need to have already built some goodwill with your audience. Westjet has managed that. Air Canada, for whatever reason, not so much.

4)      Will it actually lead to more passengers and customer loyalty?

The answer to #4 is tough and, without customers being asked, difficult to confirm. But if one of the goals of the viral video and this kind of approach is to garner attention, it has already worked. It is hard to think people will see Westjet as just a staid people-mover after seeing this video.

Of course success doesn’t always come from attention. My pick for the oddest marketing stunt of the Christmas season was K-Mart’s Joe Boxer advertisement. The US retailer used the song Jingle Bells to promote men’s underwear in a way that suggested a few things were jiggling other than bells. Now it had 17.5 million views on You Tube alone but I wonder just how many people rushed to K-Mart to buys boxer shorts let alone anything else? Sure, the ads got some people talking but I suspect not in an “Oh, I wish I was there” Westjet way, but in a “Huh?” way. Good thing I suppose they weren’t promoting women’s lingerie or the outcry might have been much louder.

One of the fundamentals of any advertisement is to draw attention to your product. In a world of digital media clutter, it is harder to stand out than ever before. One of the memorable (and mesmerising) commercials to appear over the holidays was Jean-Claude Van Damme for Volvo. Ads for trucks usually promote strength, safety and reliability. This one promotes, well, Jean-Claude Van Damme and has set a new bar for motoring commercials. The You Tube version has been seen almost 67 million times and Volvo truck sales jumped 31 per cent after its launch.

Of course, I suppose we could hire a Hollywood action star or hand out gifts to our patients to promote the quality work we do in VCH. But because our job is to provide patient care, any money spent on promotion will be considered by some as a waste. We certainly don’t spend a lot on communications – let alone marketing – in VCH with the annual budget being exhausted in about six hours.

The challenge is to build a positive brand and showcase the outstanding work everyone at VCH does but with minimal dollars. We have many success stories. The recent Vancouver Sun op-ed by VCH Chair Kip Woodward and the upcoming Knowledge Network series on the VGH Emergency Department are examples. But the work to share those stories, like providing care itself, is never ending.

What do you think we should do?

What do you think we could and/or should do? Please share your thoughts and ideas on how to spread the word of our successes and tell us what works – and doesn’t.

About the Author

Clay Adams
email iconClay.Adams@vch.ca  

Clay Adams is vice president of Communications and Public Affairs and has extensive experience in strategic communications and planning, media relations, issues management and stakeholder communications in Australia and Canada. Clay writes on communication related topics with a wry humorous style and has an interest in discussion about how we want to be understood by others. View all the posts by Clay.

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