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WestJet's holiday video becomes an online sensation

WestJet's "Christmas Miracle" video has lived up to its name for the Canadian airline. 

The annual holiday video from the company has become the viral online hit of the season, with more than 27 million views on YouTube in less than a week.

The reaction has shocked the airline, which had set a goal of reaching 200,000 views. If it hit that number, it planned to donate holiday flights to a charity. And now, 26 million views later?

"Gobsmacked would be the best way to put it," WestJet spokesman Robert Palmer told CBS MoneyWatch. "We are absolutely gobsmacked."


The idea behind the video was simple, but it took 175 WestJet employees to pull the whole thing off. WestJet set up a video feed so passengers outside of boarding gates for two Nov. 21 flights to Calgary could tell Santa Claus what they wanted for Christmas.

While those two flights were in the air -- each was about four hours long -- WestJet workers scrambled to buy everything the passengers had asked for. They ran to Best Buy (BBY) and a nearby mall to buy cameras, phones, socks, underwear and even a big-screen TV. They bought Ken dolls for the women who had asked for husbands. They bought toy cars for the people who had requested a new car.

In all, they wrapped 357 gifts, labeled them and sent them down the baggage carousel to unsuspecting passengers. The result? A fun, heartwarming video that might even make Ebenezer Scrooge tear up a bit. 

The online buzz started out strong, with 315,000 views within the first 24 hours. But that was just the beginning. The airline was stunned at the reaction last week.

Palmer said the video might have touched a nerve with people because it told a good story in an emotional way. "You look at all the terrible things that happen in the world," he said. "Sometimes people love to be reminded of all the good things that still happen."

And WestJet got more publicity than it could have ever paid for. The video, which is 5.5 minutes long, has been shared by millions and was much more effective than a traditional ad.

It was also less expensive than you might think. WestJet isn't saying how much it paid to make the ad, but Palmer said the company got many of the gifts for free or at a discounted price from Best Buy and other partners. The airline could provide other gifts, such as free flights, at little to no cost.

If WestJet had aired that ad on a prime-time network in the U.S., it would have cost the company anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000, said Steve Minichini, president of interactive marketing at New York media agency TargetCast tcm. The average prime-time audience is about 8.2 million.

"The WestJet video was really well done," Minichini said. "I personally showed my wife, kids and brothers all at different times. I'm sure the company is very pleased with the outcome."

WestJet didn't know what kind of reaction it would get by placing the video on YouTube. The company's 2012 holiday video, called "Christmas Flash Mob," only got about 500,000 views when it debuted.

How will WestJet top this next year? "Oh man, I wish you wouldn't ask me that," Palmer said. "That's the toughest question I've had. It scares us."

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