Airline videos are something most of us (if we're honest) watch once or twice out of curiosity, often while rooting around in our hand luggage for our go-to novel or bottle of water. With airline travel is second nature to millions of us, we are all guilty of tuning out once the flight attendant starts to take us through the steps needed to save us should the very worse happen at 36,000 feet.

But now, airlines have latched-on to their incredible potential as a marketing vehicle, and the oft-ignored in-flight safety video is asserting itself, not only as a medium to define and differentiate the airline brands from each other, but to also reach as many potential customers as possible.

The modern-day safety video serve two purposes. To inform the passenger while keeping them entertained - and therefore engaged - and also as an excellent video marketing tool for the airline. The very best of the bunch are going viral, the latest being Delta's “The Internetest Safety Video on the Internet” in which the worlds of airline safety and internet memes collide (but not in an airplane crashy kind of way). These instructional videos are a win-win for the airlines as they gain massive exposure in front a global audience, many of who will never set foot on one of their planes.

We take a look at the video marketing success that Virgin, Delta, and Air New Zealand have achieved with this kind of content, and how this strategy can be replicated by other brands.

Airline Safety Videos: A Video Marketing Win

We've seen numerous examples of airline content going viral in the past (think Westjet's Christmas Miracle, or the Selfie Shootout on Turkish Airlines) but the airline safety video is a genre that seems to particularly resonate with viewers. In terms of video marketing, we're seeing more airlines create exclusive content like this rather than uploading repurposed TV ads (although those uploads still form a part of their YouTube strategy). Often, these unique videos are proving to be the most engaging content for airlines on their YouTube channels. Holiday brands and airlines like Thompson, Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand and Delta get massive exposure as millions of people watch their safety videos via YouTube, and Facebook, and other social networks, without ever having to buy a ticket.

According to Tubular, in the last year alone, airline safety video content uploaded to the main platforms has attracted just under 50 million views, and 578K engagements. That's an increase of 80% compared to June 2013 to June 2014. That includes official airline uploads, and user-generated footage uploaded by passengers, the most famous of which are the clips of Southwest Airlines crew and their fantastically humorous and creative safety briefings.

In the last 90 days alone, airline safety content uploaded to the major video platforms have attracted 13.5 million views, and over 100K engagements:

airline safety videos last 90 days

"Airline safety" or "Pre-flight safety" video content uploaded to the 34 video channels monitored by Tubular between 06/03/15 and 06/06/15. (Exclusive data via Tubular)

The 5 most popular airline safety videos (including a user upload of a Southwest Airlines drill) have attracted over 30 million views between them:

airline safety videos last June 2014 to June 2015

5 most popular "Airline Safety" videos uploaded to YouTube and Facebook over past 10 years (Data via Tubular)

Let's take a look at three airlines that are excelling at producing unique and very shareable content around their safety procedures.

Delta: Memes + Fun = Viral

If Delta's latest safety video didn't go viral then everyone in their marketing team really deserved to be fired. Luckily, the meme-filled safety video, which features everyone from 'Keyboard Cat' to 'Overly-attached Girlfriend', rocketed (with the help of some paid promotion) around the Internet to become Delta's most watched video on its YouTube channel.

The video, “The Internetest Safety Video on the Internet,” is playing right now on long-haul fights, but you don't have to be a passenger to enjoy it. Delta Airlines posted the video to YouTube, where it attracted 2 million views in 2 days, and also promoted it heavily on its Twitter, and Instagram accounts. Although, interestingly, the brand didn't upload the video to its Facebook page, which has 1.4 million followers, considerably more than its YouTube channel. At time of writing, 5 out of 10 most popular videos on Delta Airlines YouTube channel revolves around safety video content.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vttuonfu2BM

Although its YouTube channel has a pretty low subscriber count given the views its videos have received, the brand has seen a significant jump in subscribers since the 'Internetest' video was released:

Delta Airlines YouTube Channel Subscribers Last 30 Days

Subscriber growth for Delta Airlines YouTube channel between 05/08/15 and 06/08/15. (Exclusive data via Tubular)

Air New Zealand: A Trip to Middle Earth

Air New Zealand has created some extraordinary video content around safety starting with the 2009 'Bare Essentials of Safety' gem which has been watched on YouTube (at time of writing) nearly 7.5 million times. Air NZ has enlisted the likes of Betty White, Snoop Dog, and Richard Simmons to raise awareness for the brand, but its 'The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made' that is not only the most popular upload to its YouTube channel, it's the most popular branded airline safety video uploaded to YouTube itself!:

The 'Most Epic' video was a follow-up to the airline’s 2012 safety video, An Unexpected Briefing, and invites the viewer on-board for a trip to Middle Earth with the cast of characters from 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.' Yep, the ad was a tie-in with the third and final movie in the Hobbit trilogy, and featured director Peter Jackson, along with a host of Orcs, Elves and other Tolkien creations. The video generated 3.5 million YouTube views within 2 days of being published to the site.

Like Delta, Air New Zealand's most popular video content on its YouTube channel pertains to airline safety, but although it has similar YouTube subscriber numbers to Delta (around 40K), the brand has gone the extra mile and added a custom channel that lets the viewer play a number of games based around the videos it has uploaded.

In terms of viewer engagement (this doesn't include paid or organic views so is a good metric to measure how video content is performing), Air New Zealand's most active demographic are males aged between 18 and 24 years old, which perhaps shouldn't be a surprise given how Hobbit-rich its top videos are. Also, the brand has more engaged fans in the U.S. than in its native New Zealand.

air new zealand engaged viewers youtube

Engaged audience demographics for Air New Zealand's YouTube Channel. (Exclusive data via Tubular's AudienceGraph Intelligence)

Virgin America: Flying the Flag for Airline Safety

The Virgin brand has always been one to push the boundaries of marketing, and one of its flagship airline ventures has created some fantastic airline safety videos that have gone viral. Virgin America was one of the first to push its safety message beyond the cabin with its nifty titled 2007 'Virgin America Safety Video'. That attracted 900,000 views on YouTube, unfortunately not on Virgin America's own channel though.

However, its 2013 'Safety Video #VXsafetydance' went super viral on upload, with the brand orchestrating a full-blown social media campaign to take advantage of the buzz. The #VXSafetyDance video was a mesmerizing musical performance, which was such a complicated production it came with its own “making-of” video. More than 30 dancers, trotted out over 14 different dance styles including jazz, tango, break-dancing, and contemporary, and Virgin incorporated the hashtag into the video itself, facilitating a thousand social conversations around the campaign. The brand also pushed the video aggressively off-line, hiring some of the biggest electronic screens in Times Square as part of the promotion, and appearing on the Ellen Show.

Video Marketing Strategy Tips for Airline Brands

With online video, airline companies have the potential and opportunity to reach millions of travelers and consumers, while raising awareness for their brand in a highly competitive vertical. They can also use video content across different platforms to differentiate themselves from their competitors in all kind of ways. Online video is also an excellent, and cost-effective way of reaching a global audience in a huge number of locations and destinations.

Branded video doesn't need to go viral to get the message across, which is handy as not every brand has the resources to create an all-singing, all-dancing masterpiece, or a marketing and advertising budget big enough to promote it. Instead, airlines should look to video to grow their potential audience beyond the viral, with video that informs them and answers specific questions they may have about flights, processes, destinations and other information.

A viral marketing campaign takes an enormous amount of resources, creativity, production, and marketing, and is pretty unsustainable for many brands. However, uploading content that will help the flyer will keep them coming back to you once they know you can be a resource to be trusted and relied upon.

Identify the needs of your audience and use video to answer their questions regarding processes. Consider using playlists to guide the viewer around your content. For example, British Airways use YouTube playlists to keep passengers updated about in-flight features like food and entertainment. How can airlines achieve that?

  • Consider segmenting and organizing your YouTube channel to appeal to different audiences. Create playlists that guide the viewer to the content they want to see, that way they will be more likely to engage with you in the form of likes, comments, and shares.
  • Identify your core audience and use different video platforms for different content that appeals to each demographic. Also, Vine and Instagram are perfect for pushing out trailers and teasers, while long-form video content works incredibly well on Facebook and YouTube.
  • Use social media (and your own website) to distribute video content.
  • 50% of YouTube views come from mobile so make sure you use Interactive Cards to guide viewers to other videos, website pages etc. This is especially important given that the average traveler is going to access your content via their tablets and smartphones while at the airport or on holiday.