An Unexpected Safety Announcement

I just spent 4:27 at my desk watching an in-flight safety commercial. More than four minutes to watch the same material I don’t pay attention to when I’m actually on a plane! True story.

Why would I spend even an extra nanosecond on the same “here’s how you buckle a safety belt” type instruction I’ve heard on hundreds of flights?

Because it features halflings, horses and our other friends from Middle Earth. That’s right: Air New Zealand uses characters from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in its in-flight safety video. Have a watch below:

Pretty cool, huh?

Of course, the communicator inside of me is dying to dissect why this works.  There are two huge reasons why: unexpectedness and credibility.

Let’s take a look at the genius of each.


You’re expecting the same boring thing you’ve heard a thousand times before. Yes I know how to buckle a seatbelt. Smoking hasn’t been allowed on a flight since they were still making Lethal Weapon movies. I get it.

Anything deviating from this pattern grabs your attention. From the moment you see the video’s passengers aboard the Air Middle Earth flight, your curiosity is piqued.

The great part is they continue to use unexpectedness throughout the video. Every time you think they’re going to return to the expected “here’s how to buckle a seatbelt” instruction, they surprise you with something else You expect a reminder to turn off electronic devices. You don’t expect it to feature these creatures. You expect a caution about what to do in case of an emergency landing. You don’t expect to see My Precious appear beneath the seat when it happens (1:37 into the video).  Best of all, you don’t expect to see the director of the films as the owner of the ring.

Note: we’d be remiss if we didn’t also acknowledge Virgin America using unexpectedness in their fun, funny safety announcements. It’s easy to give the whole “tampering with smoke detectors isn’t allowed by law” spiel aloud; it is much, much harder to present them in a way where people pay attention.


Not debatable: Almost everyone loves these characters. The films won 17 Academy Awards and generated a surge of tourists visiting New Zealand. There’s so much enthusiasm for The Hobbit, tickets are being sold more than a month in advance of opening night. Not a bad place to start as far as endorsers go.

But there is an additional layer: As beloved as the LOTR characters are worldwide, they resonate even more deeply with the locals in New Zealand. That’s what makes it such a genius use of credibility. Compare that to using someone like Russell Crowe, who even in his Gladiator heyday had his detractors, people calling him a sell-out, questioning whether he’s Kiwi or Australian, etc.

Of course, the best credibility of all is when Mr. Peter Jackson himself – ranked by Reader’s Digest New Zealand as the country’s 12th most trusted person – makes a cameo appearance.

One of the great things about using the LOTR characters: they have already established credibility in your heart. There isn’t a whole lot they can do to damage that because, well, they’re not real. That’s why Rocky Balboa – embraced as local Philadelphian – could welcome you to the city of brotherly love. Sylvester Stallone himself, a flawed, actual Philadelphian? Less credible.

Here is to hoping this spawns other fictitious characters welcoming you to town. Who wouldn’t love to have Will Hunting welcome you to Boston? Or George Costanza to New York?

How about you? Who from the world of cinema would you want welcoming tourists to your town?

3 comments on “An Unexpected Safety Announcement

  1. Great post! Safety videos that riff off popular culture are an Air New Zealand ‘thing’. This one, made 2 years ago for the Australia v New Zealand Rugby World Cup final is also brilliant. Even if you don’t know rugby, or the players and the coaches, or that naked people sometimes run onto sports fields as a prank, you will laugh. (You will also do up your seat belt and probably fly Air New Zealand again!)

  2. Well, growing up in Danville, CA, the only movie I remember being filmed was “Mrs. Doubtfire.” So maybe Mrs. Doubtfire could welcome everyone to my beloved hometown.

  3. Thanks Ben, you made my day with that video. I guess their creativity does work. Hats off to New Zealand Air for even thinking it was important to tweak their safety video. But I am sure this will become a marketing tool.