Why every brand needs to pull a rabbit out of their hat once in a while

Back when I was a remarkably cute little girl, I remember going to my grandparents’ house and watching their vacation slide shows and loving it. Every photo was more stunning than the one before. A peek into another world. Thrilling for me, right down to shots from the airplane terminal. Back when the travel protocol meant dressing in your Sunday best – it was an event. My grandma dolled-up in heels and drenched in her finest jewelry, and grandpa smartly attired in a well-fit suit and sporting dashing Italian leather loafers.

Today, one frisk at the TSA and you know the flying experience has changed. Most travelers dress for comfort, not style. Comfort trumps decorum in coach. And even in first class. And why not? In the last 20+ years, the airline industry has become more of a bully than an elegant transportation option on the route to adventure. Paying $50 for a checked suitcase and a hoping for a snippet of an in-flight snack coupled with a sardine seating arrangement has sucked the romance right out it.

Well, one airline is paying attention. This week, I came across a video that tickled the once implausible idea that airlines are starting to get it. WestJet Airlines understands the opportunity that lies in negative industry perceptions. They set up a virtual Santa Claus in the Toronto and Hamilton International Airports. Passengers who were waiting to board flights to Calgary shared what they wanted for Christmas with the virtual Santa. After everybody boarded the plane, the WestJet “elves” set off on a shopping spree to fulfill their passengers’ wish lists. After landing, the passengers waited at the baggage claim for their suitcases and to their surprise, out came fully-wrapped presents addressed to each and every one of them.

Was the universal perception of the new normal of a cattle call airline experience solved? No. But it’s good to be first with PR-rich gestures like the one WestJet pulled. Like Mad Men’s Don Draper says, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” Good brands know when to be the first to do just that.

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