Christmas Comes Early to WestJet Passengers: A Lesson in Loyalty Marketing Done Well

Dec 24, 2013

As one of the 29 million people to view WestJet’s Christmas Miracle video, I can honestly say that from a branding perspective this is as good as it gets. A job really well done.

If you haven’t seen it, let me clue you in. Canadian airline WestJet released a heartwarming video in time for the holidays – filmed with hidden cameras – that showed creativity and genuine human emotion at its finest. A virtual interactive Santa, displayed on kiosks at Toronto and Hamilton International airports, asked 250 passengers what they wanted for Christmas. The cameras catch children and adults telling Father Christmas what they’d like, ranging from a flat screen TV to a Thomas the Train set to socks and underwear, among other requests. It’s clear by passengers’ facial expressions that, while interested in the promotional effort, they weren’t expecting much.

Employees turn Elf

What they couldn’t possibly have known was that WestJet had been planning this stunt since the summer. Upon receiving passengers’ wish lists, 150 “WestJetters” (WestJet employees) stood in for Santa Claus helpers and raced to a variety of stores to purchase the requested gifts. Upon arrival in Calgary, wrapped gifts funneled down baggage carousel 8 as passengers came to collect their luggage.

Campaigns like this hammer home the importance of creativity. Not just for customer loyalty’s sake, but for the simple interest in keeping a brand’s image fresh and its employees genuinely engaged. It’s also a reminder that rewards programs are only a tool for creating unmatched customer experiences – they are not the only way to drive customer engagement. Of course, if a loyalty program isn’t exciting its members with timely and relevant rewards, other engagement tactics will be meaningless. But loyalty doesn’t need to always be prepackaged in loyalty program confines.

Beyond the Budgeting Balance Book

The video’s second takeaway concerns ROI – and the challenge in measuring it. Based on the video’s professionalism, length, and the program’s scope, this couldn’t have been a low-cost endeavor.

The more difficult measurement, however, comes down to calculating passenger brand allegiance. How many of those 250 passengers will fly WestJet due to this promotion?  And how many of the video’s 29.2 million YouTube viewers will be so emotionally inspired that WestJet becomes their airline brand of choice?

Even if generating loyalty is not limited to a loyalty program, the principles of loyalty strategy still apply. No doubt, if WestJet had been planning this stunt since the summer, they had metrics or goals they wanted to hit. Not all of those 29.2 million viewers are in the market for a WestJet flight, but could they follow WestJet on social media? Could they visit the website? Could they sign up for a newsletter? 

There are as many ways to measure ROI as there are to measure loyalty.

The Miracle of Brand Excellence

I can tell you this: brands that cultivate a corporate culture of creative excellence and C-level buy-in have a greater chance of hitting their ROI and loyalty goals. The key is finding that “sweet spot” where even moderate-cost initiatives can be extremely effective and yield excellent returns by engaging customers’ emotions.

Kudos to WestJet for its brilliant creativity and excellence in loyalty cultivation. Even if WestJet doesn’t fly routes I normally travel, you can be sure I’ve become an ambassador for its brand.

Have you seen WestJet’s Christmas Miracle video? What else can other brands do to push the boundaries of customer acquisition and loyalty promotion? Let us know in the space below or by emailing us at