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Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe Discusses the Airline's Clothes-Free Ad Campaign

Air New Zealand's latest ad campaign features many employees, including CEO Rob Fyfe, without any clothes on. So are all the indecency folks up in arms over such a stunt? Nope. In fact, I've heard nearly universal praise for the ad, which has really taken off online with more than 1.5 million views on YouTube. I had the chance to talk to Rob about the campaign, and he had plenty to say. But before we get into the interview, let's watch the ad:

Not quite as racy as you had thought, maybe? Still, it has become a global phenomenon, and I had plenty of questions for Rob, a man recently named the hottest businessman in New Zealand by

Brett: Hello Rob. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me this afternoon. I feel privileged to be talking to the hottest businessman in New Zealand.

Rob: [chuckles] I think that's only because I have more staff working for me than any of the other contenders.

Brett: Maybe but I imagine that when you announced you would be taking your clothes off for a television commercial, that probably caught people's attention.

Rob: It was a total coincidence. But the combination of the two definitely generated a bit of noise here.

Brett: So tell me more about this campaign you're running. What was the strategy behind it? What were you looking to do?

Rob: From a marketing philosophy, we have a very clear philosophy. When you create ads, if you have to pay to get eyeballs in front of them, that says to me the ad isn't good enough. If the ad is good enough and creates enough attention and creates enough entertainment, then it should be able to move virally. The eyeballs find the ad instead of the ad finding the eyeballs. Every time we look at a campaign, it's with that in mind. We use mainstream media, but we always think about it that way.

We started off by putting a pilot, body painted, on a billboard just to see the reaction.

Brett: In Auckland?

Rob: Yes, here in Auckland. We got a pretty good reaction and thought, ok, let's push that boundary. So we thought we'd create this video. The team was looking for angles - how do we increase the talkability? They pitched to me, "do you want to be in this ad?" Once a month, I go work somewhere in the business, so they said, why don't we take that notion - it's quite well known in NZ - and have you working as a baggage handler on the day we do this.

Brett: It certainly has been an effective campaign in terms of creating buzz, but is that how you measure success? How do you measure effectiveness at Air New Zealand?

Rob: We can measure effectiveness on two axes. The first axis is how many eyeballs get to see the ad and can take the core message out of the ad. The core message is that our fares are all inclusive and we have nothing to hide and there are no extra charges for bags or food. Then we relate that to how much we spent on producing and seeding the ad initially before viral pickup occurs.

The second and equally as important axis is to say, what does this ad say to the market about our brand and the personality of our organization? We've been working hard to shift our brand position. We're a large carrier in the New Zealand market - small on the global scene - but here the danger is that you're perceived to be one of those large, incumbent, staid, inertia-bound corporates and we're trying to reposition ourselves to be edgy, creative, appear to do things a little different, and take a little commercial risk in what we do.

We're constantly measuring our brand attributes and how it shifts the view of the brand from the consumer perspective. Us being a small player in a market like the US or UK, anything we can do to get cut-through, given our limited budget, is great.

Brett: So I assume it's safe to say this campaign has been a success?

Rob: Absolutely. This is the most viewed ad campaign to ever come out of New Zealand. One of the facts they sent me yesterday is that as of yesterday, there are 22,000 sites around the world that have embedded this video. I've had emails from people in Norway, from South Africa, Australia, etc.

Brett: I imagine that sort of global recognition makes it even more of a hit in New Zealand.

Rob: It's perceived as a bit of a phenomenon here in New Zealand. There has been universal praise, possibly from everyone except my kids. They were deeply embarrassed that they'd have to explain to their friends why their dad was naked on TV. In concept it sounded pretty out there.

Brett: Apparently you think this is a good idea for other airlines as well since you've now issued a challenge to other CEOs to join in.

Rob: Coincidentally, the week after we release this, I was in Texas at a conference with a whole range of CEOs from all over the industry. So there are people at this conference like Gerard Arpey from American, Jim McNerney, the CEO of Boeing, and so on. There was a lot of talk about the ad, and someone said you have to figure out how to take it to the next level, so the challenge is out there.

Brett: You think anyone will take you up on that?

Rob: I think we have a reputation that we're a little more prepared to take more a chance down here in New Zealand.

Brett: That's probably better anyway. I don't think we want to see some of those guys without clothes on.

Rob: I'm not one to judge.

So there you have it. A very interesting conversation surrounding a very successful campaign so far. It's a very simple message and it sticks quite well. It's something I would have thought that an airline like Southwest would have tried here in the US with their no-fee efforts, but so far their approach has been much more tame.

Overall, I think this has been one of the most effective no-fee marketing efforts that I've seen. Anyone else beg to differ?

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