If you've been anywhere on the internet in the past three days, you've more than likely run into the joy and generosity of WestJet's Christmas Miracle video. To say it was a success may be a bit of an understatement.
In three days, it received 12 million views.
While the jury's still out on the exact recipe for a viral sensation, there are still three things marketers can learn from WestJet's success.
1. Start small and share
WestJet, like any company, would have had a budget for this project. They had two options for this Christmas Miracle: reach across many, many flights and provide all travellers with small delights or offer a smaller number of travellers much bigger delights.
Compare the route that WestJet took to the alternative of providing a Christmas card and a candy cane to all WestJet guests. While this may still have had a positive impact on the travellers who received them, there's nothing shareable in this.
While choosing a smaller audience meant less gifts were received, this allowed WestJet to craft a more unbelievable, heart-warming story. A story that was then more shareable, and will ultimately, reach more people through virality on social.
2. Make it unusual, out-of-the-box, or hard to believe
This ties into point 1. In order for someone to view and share brand content - or any content, really - there is normally some degree of bewilderment. In WestJet's case, this was both the size of the gifts (which included diamond rings and very large flat-screen TVs) as well as the extreme effort that went into organizing, purchasing, wrapping, and delivering the gifts by the time the travellers landed.
Just think of the types of stories that you tend to share with your friends when you get together for coffee. They're about a man who climbed to the top of a mountain without shoes or food; a family that donates, volunteers, and gives back even thought they have nothing themselves; a dog that can balance absolutely anything on its head. These are not common stories. People don't care about common. No one shares common.
Not only was the WestJet story hard to believe, but they did a great job of capturing this aspect in the video and spelling it out to viewers. With WestJet volunteers running from store to store and scrambling to wrap gifts, viewers could tell this was no easy feat!
3. Capture real, intense emotion
We are all suckers for emotion. It's the key to all good marketing, really. And viral videos are no exception.
Tell me you didn't feel a tug on your heart when that mother unwrapped her new camera from WestJet and teared up. You're not alone.
The key here is to build a level of emotion that can trigger viewers. Last year, WestJet had a similar Christmas video where they converted an airport lounge into the North Pole. While everyone did seem happy, it really wasn't enough to make those watching feel any different, or relate to those participating in the experience. That video only received 700,000 views.
While WestJet's viral video certainly got them a lot of exposure, and potentially top-of-mind awareness as travellers plan their Christmas (or post-Christmas) vacations, it also has a much broader impact. For years now, WestJet has been known to be a company run by real people who are involved in the business as shareholders, and have fun, even though they're in such a 'serious business'. When people think of WestJet, they think of honest, fun-loving people who care. This video just sends that message a little further home