How to fasten your seat belt, how to operate a life jacket, and how to use the oxygen masks — these (and more) are standard information given whenever one boards an airplane. So standard and often tedious that people tune out once the captain says “presenting the safety features of this airplane” monologue and then turns on the safety video or the flight attendants perform the shtick for the thousandth time.
It is all in the interest of safety they say; in the unlikely event that something goes wrong. But for people who now have an attention span which rivals that of a goldfish according to a 2015 Microsoft study (eight seconds), asking for five minutes of their attention for something they’ve probably seen many times over is too much.
The same Microsoft study revealed that 77% of participants aged 18-24 automatically reach for their phones when nothing occupies their attention.
And airlines know this.
“Before we show our safety video, we’re still taxi-ing. People are on their phones while the safety video is on. They won’t watch it because they’ve seen it before,” said Ria Domingo, Philippine Airlines (PAL) VP for Marketing on the sidelines of the launch of PAL’s new safety video in mid-February.
“It’s very critical… we have to catch their attention and keep it,” she added.
Many credit Virgin America as the airline which started revolutionizing the boring in-flight safety videos, starting in 2007 with an animated video filled with quirky animals and characters in place of regular passengers, with a deadpan voice-over that poked fun at the tedium by saying, “for the 0.0001% who has never operated a seat belt before, it works like this…” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6ixjc5yeMU)
Clearly, this was the step in the right direction: two years later, Air New Zealand, did its own slightly risqué attempt at an eye-catching in-flight safety video with “Bare Essentials of Safety,” showing their flight crew in nothing but painted-on clothing, with one crewmember cheekily saying, “Even if you fly with us quite often, we ask that you take a second look.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-Mq9HAE62Y)
A June 2009 New York Times article quoted the airline’s marketing manager as saying the video took a day to shoot and cost “10%-15% of a major brand commercial” as there were no actors to pay: “the staff members did not receive extra pay, just increased exposure.”
The Air New Zealand in-flight safety video and accompanying 45-second commercial were followed by a string of widely successful videos of the same nature in the following years — most notably the Lord of the Rings-themed safety video in 2015 entitled “The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made,” in celebration of the third and final film of The Hobbit Trilogy: The Battle of the Five Armies, which, like all the Lord of the Rings films, was made in New Zealand.
The video featured actor Elijah Wood, who played Frodo in the film series, and Sir Peter Jackson, the director of the film franchise and the one who discovered the area in New Zealand that is now known as Hobbiton — a sheep farm in Matamata which now also houses the set created to represent The Shire, the fictional town where the diminutive Hobbits lived. It is now considered one of the most famous tourist destinations in the country.
The “Epic” safety video has so far garnered more than 16 million views on YouTube alone.
Meanwhile, in 2015 Air France chose to embody French chic by having models clothed in striped tops and flowy skirts demonstrate the safety features of the aircraft in a set that looked like a cross between a plane and a chateau. (https://youtu-be/0N3J6fE-0JI)
SIGHTS OF THE PHILIPPINES
This February, the Philippine flag carrier introduced a new airline safety video replacing its old one which featured a Mr. Bean-esque model acting surprised over every single safety feature.
The new safety video veers away from the sensational and comical or even the celebrity–filled (as in the case of Qatar Airline’s video featuring the popular Spanish football team, FC Barcelona, of which the airline is a major sponsor) and took the scenic route by introducing Philippine destinations and locals.
“We ensured that the message of safety of every flight is not eclipsed by the colorful and eye-catching images,” said Jaime J. Bautista, president and COO of PAL Holdings, Inc., during the launch of the video. “We want passengers to pay attention to the safety features of the aircraft — this time through sand, sea, and sky.”
“We veered from the traditional video location inside the aircraft cabin,” he noted. “The end effect is truly refreshing.”
The almost five-minute video shows the sights of Coron in Palawan, Mt. Mayon in Albay, The Pearl Farm in Davao, and Rizal Park in Manila among many other areas, and also has locals doing the demonstrations — for example, a couple of zipliners at the Dahilayan Adventure Park in Bukidnon explaining how to use the seat belt, and a young boy demonstrating where the plane exits are on an outline of a plane scratched into the sand of Boracay. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qxvm8h91PRU)
“Other airlines did whatever theme — if there’s a movie attached to their country… there are a lot of those and we didn’t want to do the typical and predictable. We wanted to do something out of the box,” Ms. Domingo said, before adding that they “crowd-sourced” the talents by holding auditions in the various destinations to portray the local flavor.
“It’s perfect because we’re ‘The Heart of the Filipino.’ What better way to have the Filipino people in it and, at the same time, we’re promoting the beauty of the Filipino,” she explained. The video also doesn’t mask the talents’ accents so it adds another layer.
The “Heart of the Nation” safety video has so far been viewed more than 734,000 times.
SAFETY VIDEOS AND MARKETING
It is apparent that safety videos are not only made in the interest of safety — since Air New Zealand’s “Bare Essentials,” airlines have taken the videos as a way of marketing their products and differentiating their brand.
Cross platform video intelligence and analytics solutions company, Tubular Labs, revealed in 2015 that safety videos are “proving to be the most engaging content for airlines on their YouTube channels.”
The California-based company noted that airline safety video content uploaded on main platforms “has attracted just under 50 million views and 576,000 in engagements,” showing a marked increase of 80% compared to last year.
The number includes official airline uploads and user-generated footage.
“Airlines have latched on to their incredible potential as a marketing vehicle, and the oft-ignored in-flight safety video is asserting itself, not only as a medium to define and differentiate the airline brands from each other, but to also reach as many potential customers as possible,” said the June 2015 article by Carla Marshall on the Tubular Insights website.
“As an airline, we’re not just selling Philippine Airlines, we’re selling the Philippines for them — even the locals — to visit the different provinces and, at the same time, encourage foreigners to go and try to explore the Philippines,” Ms. Domingo said, agreeing with the marketing potential of these videos.
“It’s really communicating our brand,” she added.
THE QUESTION OF RETENTION
While the mission to get the passengers’ attention by using unique safety airline videos has been successful, some have raised concerns about whether passengers truly remember what is said about airplane safety after the five-minute video is over.
A 2014 article from Flight Safety Australia, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia’s flagship aviation safety magazine, asked whether safety videos “reinforce the cabin safety message or merely act as a distraction to passengers?”
The question still hangs in the air. Dr. Brett Molesworth, who has carried out research into cabin safety briefings at the University of New South Wales, said in the article that little is known on the subject.
“I can only find limited research examining the effectiveness of safety briefings (not safety cards, as there is considerable research in this area) in terms of recall and memory of information. However, while this is an important question, it only addresses part of the problem [getting the passengers’ attention],” he said.
Mr. Molesworth noted that in a study he conducted examining the recall of information from three safety briefings, “participants recalled only about 50% of the safety messages” and recall performance decreased as time passed.
The study, which had university students as participants, also showed that while humor might get the most attention, it “detracted from learning and recall.”