How WestJet Won Christmas With the Best Publicity Stunt Ever

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And he apparently is pretty good at getting people to feel good about a Canadian airline.

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By Ray Hennessey

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While other companies mark down prices or put big inflatable Rudolphs outside their offices for the holidays, WestJet decided to market itself for Christmas by actually showing us what Christmas is all about.

WestJet, the Canadian airline, gave passengers on a flight a chance to talk to Santa Claus (dressed, oddly, in blue), after they scanned their boarding passes. As one can expect, people told Santa what they wanted, then moved on, likely thinking that this Santa, like every other Kris Kringle in malls around North America, would listen politely, tell kids they would shoot their eye out, and move on to the next crying brat.

But WestJet sent its employees out while the flight was underway, bought the gifts and surprised the passengers at the baggage claims with the wrapped presents themselves. We're not talking Slinkys here either. Some folks asked for, and received, flat-panel TVs and Android tablets. (Pity, with me, the gentleman who asked for socks and underwear.)

The YouTube video of the event has been a viral hit, boosting WestJet's reputation and reminding Americans the reason for the season (and that there is more to Canada than just Rob Ford).

The stunt worked for three reasons:

1. It was inexpensive. Buying gifts for every passenger on a flight isn't exactly cheap, but, in the context of where that fits into an airline marketing budget, it was a bargain. There were other costs, like employee time in getting and wrapping the gifts, and fuel in transport, but we're not talking huge cash here.

2. It was designed with a viral mindset. WestJet isn't running the videos as ads. People are sharing them. (Hell, we are writing about them and posting it.) Going into the project, WestJet knew it had a chance to take off, and planned and edited the video with that in mind. It was well-executed.

3. It was genuine. You can't fake the smiles on the faces of the passengers or, more importantly for WestJet, the employees. At a time when so much of what is viral is also fake, it is nice to see a real, live happy ho-ho-hodown of Christmas cheer.

Will it sell airline tickets? That's unclear. But it certainly puts a halo around WestJet for Christmas.

Don't believe us? Go ahead and watch the video below. We dare you not to cry.

Ray Hennessey

Former Editorial Director at Entrepreneur Media

Ray Hennessey is the former editorial director of Entrepreneur.

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