It's not unusual for airline passengers to keep their eyes glued to a book or to stare out the window as a flight attendant recites the Federal Aviation Administration's safety instructions before takeoff, sometimes in person or on video. Many passengers have heard it all before, so they just zone out.
Delta Airlines passengers might find it a bit harder to ignore its safety videos, however. Early last month, the airline unveiled two new versions of the pre-flight recordings, both of which include plentiful sight gags for sharp-eyed viewers. Quick jokes about tiny luggage and elderly women trying to drink tea in turbulence evoke memories of the movie "Airplane!"
"We wanted people to laugh and be engaged, because if they're paying attention and watching for the gags, they're also paying attention and listening to the safety instructions," says Delta's general manager of marketing communications, Mauricio Parise.
The videos have taken off outside Delta's planes, too. In the six weeks or so since they launched on YouTube, they've drawn more than 160,000 views. Something people would have otherwise ignored, they're now watching for fun.
Time for a refresh
These videos actually aren't the first of Delta's in-flight videos to go viral. Its video from 2008, which didn't include goofy gags but did feature the airline's flight-attendant spokeswoman Deltalina, racked up close to 3 million views. That video "broke the mold" for in-flight safety videos, Parise says. So why update it?
"After four years our passengers were no longer paying attention," he says. "We've been enhancing so many of our products and services recently, the safety video was an obvious next step."
The company gathered employees from across divisions—marketing, in-flight services, pilots, customer service—to work with its agency and production company partners on a four-day shoot early this year at Detroit Metro Airport.
Getting the message right
Parise says adding humor to the videos was a way to get people to take notice when they've probably got a multimedia device in their hand.
"If you don't differentiate creatively, you will lose the audience's attention," he says. "Content should always entertain, inspire, or educate. The goal was definitely to grab people's attention through the humor, while at the same time getting them to pay attention to the safety message."
The team had to be extra careful not to include any spoken humor in the videos, Parise says.
"So much of the script is mandated by the FAA that it's really not an option to tinker with that, so the visual humor really had to be the focus," he says.
Plus, the team didn't want the safety instructions, which Parise says had to be the crux of the message, to get lost.
Off the plane
In the weeks since the videos have been posted to YouTube, websites including The Huffington Post and Fast Company have caught on and re-posted them. Plenty of folks on Twitter have been talking about them. Parise says going viral with the safety videos—not just keeping them limited to the airline's planes—was part of the plan.
"We have a big focus on developing shareable content on everything we do," he says. "Digital and social is ingrained in our lives. Our audience wants to be part of a conversation rather than just receive information."
People wouldn't necessarily expect absurdist humor from Delta, which is another reason for including the gags, he says. The airline wants to continue surprising its audience, because it's getting tougher to get through to people with standard TV advertising.
"The media are now highly fragmented," Parise says. "Two decades ago, an episode of 'Seinfeld' enjoyed 22 rating points. Today a very successful show like an 'American Idol' finale gets 6. It is much tougher to find our audience."