Blog Post

What Small Businesses Can Learn About Content Creation from ‘Epic’ Safety Videos and ‘Dumb Ways to Die’


Elves stand atop mountains. Dwarves and orcs run at one another, waving their weapons above their heads. A wizard flies through the sky on the back of a giant eagle. And in the end, a man puts on a ring and disappears into thin air.

No, this isn’t a sneak peak for the last Hobbit film: it’s the newest flight safety video for Air New Zealand, released in October 2014. But like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies, it was directed by Peter Jackson and features several actors from both series.

Titled “The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made,” the four-and-a-half minute clip uses actors and costumed characters to demonstrate flight safety procedures: Sylvester McCoy, who plays wizard Radagast in the Hobbit films, explains how to sit in business premier class; Fili actor Dean O’Gorman, riding on horseback, shows the proper way to fasten a seatbelt; a confused-looking orc dons an emergency oxygen mask; and two Hobbit superfans bungee jump off of a bridge while wearing the airline safety vests. Peter Jackson makes a cameo somewhere in the middle, and at the end, Elijah Wood thanks passengers for choosing Air New Zealand before putting on the One Ring and vanishing, just like his character Frodo.

This is the second Peter Jackson-directed safety video for the airline. The first, “An Unexpected Briefing,” was released in 2012; it featured a plane full of actors in Middle Earth-themed costumes and included some of the same cameos.

Let’s face it: safety briefings are not the most interesting videos to watch, but they are necessary (and government mandated) for sharing safety information with passengers. The Tolkien-themed videos not only serve as “infotainment” before the flight takes off, but they’re also great PR: each of the Air New Zealand safety videos, posted to the company’s official YouTube channel, currently have over 12 million views each, with the most recent achieving that figure in just three weeks. Not to mention both videos provided publicity for the airline and were not-so-subtle plugs for the Hobbit films before their release.

Air New Zealand isn’t the only airline to use this sort of viral infotainment. Earlier this year, Delta Airlines worked with Wieden + Kennedy New York to develop a 1980s-inspired safety video, featuring ALF, Teddy Ruxpin, a member of the band Devo, co-pilot Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (in a reference to the 1980 film Airplane!), and plenty of ridiculous ‘80s fashion and hairstyles. Delta had previously entertained passengers with videos that included humorous visual gags and even Christmas themes, also created by Wieden + Kennedy.

Even train companies get in on the fun of creating viral videos to explain safety procedures. Metro Trains from Melbourne, Australia, hired advertising agency McCann Melbourne for their cute-yet-cautionary video “Dumb Ways to Die,” which warns train patrons to stay clear of the tracks and not to drive around the gates at a train crossing. The video also features adorably blobbular characters dying in other “dumb” ways: setting fire to their hair, poking a grizzly bear, standing in a forest dressed up as a moose “during hunting season,” and messing with wasps’ nests “for no good reason.” Not only did the safety message spread, but the video received 30 million hits in a matter of weeks and the song was available for sale on iTunes. It even spawned a mobile game, with a second on the way.

So what’s the lesson here for other advertisers? Assuming that most small businesses don’t have the budget to hire a world famous director, it is still possible to make videos for the internet without going broke. When it comes to getting noticed on the internet, though, it’s content -- not a commercial -- that gets noticed.

Content can go beyond safety videos. How-to videos are especially popular because at some point everyone needs to learn a new skill. Businesses can also use videos to highlight their products and services. Making a video to explain what a product is or how to use it on a weekly or monthly basis serves to keep customers aware of a business’s ever-expanding inventory. It’s not enough to simply create useful content: there needs to be a constant flow to build a brand over time and keep customers coming back.

Small businesses shouldn’t be afraid to explore cultural memes, either. Whatever the next “Harlem Shake” or “Ice Bucket Challenge” is could be a great opportunity for businesses to get some local attention. And if it’s connected with a charitable cause, that’s even better PR. The personal touch, whether in a brief how-to or a pledge to charity, is a shareable way to distribute useful content to a local market.

Finally, anyone can start a YouTube account these days, so uploading a video to attract customers is just a few mouse-clicks away. It may not be “epic” or have a catchy song attached to it, but it could be the part of the next viral content marketing sensation… and small businesses won’t know if they have a hit until they try.