The Season of Giving Part 1
WestJet – Painting Christmas A New Shade Of Blue

Open Jaw
by Martha Chapman

The festive season tends to be clad in a lot of red and green, but not at WS where blue rules the day. For the past 5 years the carrier has clearly devoted a ton of time, effort and imagination into surprising one lucky group with a special event – and charming the rest of us with a video of the whole thing.

And 2016 was no different. In case you missed it, this year the recipients of WS largesse were hundreds of inhabitants of Fort McMurray, the Alberta city hit by devastating forest fires last May. You can see the video here.

“Fort McMurray is very important community for us,” WestJet’s Lauren Stewart told me. “We are Alberta-based and were already very engaged in the community including our involvement in the Boys and Girls Clubs. Plus we employ a lot of WestJetters at the airport. So this year we went back to our roots to surprise people whose homes had been affected.”

The company organized a party for 850 residents on November 26th, billing it as a “Snowflake Soiree”. As well as food, crafts and games and a live concert by Johnny Reid, a mini-blizzard of tiny white parachutes was delivered from weather balloons, providing each family with a personalized Christmas tree ornament and card from a WestJetter as well as  vouchers for a flight. “It was massively organized chaos,” recalls Stuart, adding that people are so curious about how it all comes together that the airline also produces a behind-the-scenes video each year.

Past Christmas themes included the 1st, a Christmas flash mob; the following year Santa asked pax boarding YYZ (including Open Jaw’s Suzanne Christie) and YHM flights to YYC what they’d like for Christmas – and staffers miraculously shopped and wrapped the gifts and had them on the baggage carousel on arrival; then an on-location event in the Dominican Republic and last year’s 32,000 “mini-miracles” where WestJetters were encouraged to pay it forward with unexpected gestures of kindness to strangers. During the 1st 4 years alone, over 50 million people have, hankies in hand, viewed the videos.

The ideas come from WS’s experiential marketing team who also take care of the logistics. This year there were 48 WestJetters who volunteered their time to make it all happen.

Stewart was coy about the identity of Santa – and even more coy about the cost of creating the videos and giveaways (“For us it’s not about the money”). But she did say that the day this year’s version came out it was the top trending video on YouTube and also received coverage on Huffington Post and BuzzFeed so clearly there’s a huge PR payoff.

“Everyone waits for the WestJet Christmas video to come out now,” says Stewart. “We start getting inquiries in November.” She was reluctant to commit as to whether WS plans Blue Santa #6 , but I’ll bet there will be a lot of people setting aside the Kleenex next December to see what WestJet has up its festive blue sleeve.

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