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WestJet viral holiday video hailed as marketing gold

Canadian airline Westjet placed an interactive father Christmas in the departure lounge who knew all 250 passengers by their first names and delivered gifts on board.

WestJet is calling its holiday marketing stunt a “Christmas Miracle,” but anyone with a marketing bone in his or her body knows it’s more of a social media slam-dunk.

The airline’s carefully concocted plan to dole out gifts to 250 lucky passengers travelling from Toronto and Hamilton en route to Calgary has received more than seven million views around the world as of Wednesday morning.

It’s also drawing kudos across social media sites and has people sympathizing for “Socks and Underwear Guy,” who probably wished he asked Santa for something better in the boarding lounge that day.

Across Twitter and Facebook, people are calling it marketing genius, congratulating the airline for paying it forward and a few even admitted to tearing up as they watched the performance unfold in the five-minute video.

WestJet won’t say how much it cost to pull off the stunt, which included buying about 350 gifts - from socks to tablets and flat screen TVs - wrapping and then delivering them on the baggage carousel all within the four-hour flight time from Ontario to Alberta.

Still, experts say the positive impact on WestJet’s brand is priceless.

“It’s well executed, perfect tone and timing,” says David Ian Gray of Vancouver-based marketing firm DIG360 Consulting Ltd. “It has everyone, including a number of my clients, buzzing.”

Even the virtual Santa used to take the gift orders was appropriately dressed in WestJet’s signature colours, he notes.

Gray says the video will generate “multiples of value compared to the cost of production.”

WestJet says it began planning the skit back in August. It involved about 175 WestJet employees, sponsors such as Best Buy, Under Armour and CrossIron Mills mall, and was filmed using 19 hidden cameras.

"We wanted to turn our holiday campaign into a tradition by doing something that's never been done before," WestJet spokesperson Richard Bartrem stated.

The company has committed to donate flights through Ronald McDonald House Charities once the video reaches 200,000 views, which only took about 24 hours since the video was first posted on Monday.

In its blog, WestJet insists the stunt “wasn’t about branding,” but about its passengers and “creating a remarkable experience.”

While that may be true – after all, the stock is up this year and passenger loads are increasing – it’s certainly doing its part to endear travellers.

“You have a new fan and customer,” says one Facebook follower. “Well played WestJet,” says another.

Holiday magic, indeed.