Hairy toes return to Air New Zealand and Google also gets Hobbit fever – UPDATED

It’s been a busy week for Air New Zealand with asset sales and a dip in shares value. But somewhere in all that chaos, the airline still managed to find time to release a commercial that aims to remind everyone that the company has a distinctly Kiwi flavour.

The new hobbit-filled ad, which was created by creative agency True and production company Curious Film, follows on from the ‘Unexpected Briefing’ video that went viral last year. And although the new video is much shorter than the four minutes and twenty-seven seconds its predecessor, it has a few features that viewers will find familiar.

Gandalf is still in the business of flying planes, hobbits still have hairy toes and there is still an abundance of pointy ears on display. Despite these similarities, the new video does, however, veer away from safety tips, choosing instead to depict an airline employee behaving irresponsibly with a magical staff.

Since its release on 19 November, the ad has already clocked up hundreds of thousands of views online, and the YouTube response has been positive, with less than a percent of viewers giving it a thumbs down.

Public affairs spokesperson for Air New Zealand Andrew Aitken says, “The aim of the video is to inspire travellers from around the world to take their own unexpected journeys – with the key message ‘Middle-earth is closer than you think’. There’s a common perception that New Zealand is tucked away at the bottom of the earth and the perceived distance barrier stops some travellers considering the country as a destination.”

And this sentiment is backed up by Air New Zealand’s global head of brand development Jodie Williams when she says, “For travellers from the majority of Air New Zealand’s long-haul destinations, including Shanghai, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Hong Kong and Tokyo, Middle-earth is just a sleep away.” 

This latest foray into the world of Tolkien forms part of the ‘Middle-earth is closer than you think’ campaign, which has been launched in conjunction with a competition that gives entrants the chance to win one of four Hobbit-themed prizes. Three Hobbit movie fans from around the world will win a five-night trip to Los Angeles to watch the premiere screening of The Hobbit: the desolation of Smaug on 2 December, while the fourth winner will get a five-night New Zealand trip, which includes visits to Hobbiton and Weta Cave.

To ensure that people watch the short video, Air New Zealand requires entrants to answer an easy question related to the content on Flyingsocial, the social-networking extension of the Air New Zealand brand.

Aitken says that they received 73,000 entries from around the world within the first 48 hours, and that entries are continuing to stream in at a steady rate. 

The new campaign is also gaining social-media momentum, with #airNZhobbit enjoying some decent Twitter action over the last two days. While most tweets simply applaud the video, fans have also used the hashtag as an opportunity to remind everyone that the Air New Zealand safety videos are superior to those that were recently made by competing American airlines.

The airline will welcome this positive brand engagement, which comes during a tricky transitional phase. In addition to undergoing asset sales, suffering a dip in share prices and releasing a new advertisement, the company also recently updated its Airpoints loyalty programme.

In a release that described the move as the most comprehensive review of the programme in a decade, Air New Zealand explains that changes have been initiated to “to recalibrate earning rates so that Airpoints Dollars and status points earned more fairly reflect the fare paid.”

The updated system awards points to short-haul flights for the first time, and also increases rewards for travellers who prefer pricier seats. Acting as a counterweight to these two changes are mid-range flights, which will now earn fewer points than before.

Air New Zealand Head of Customer Loyalty Mark Street says, “Overall, these changes result in a much fairer reward and recognition system as they are directly linked to value of the fare paid.”

Given these updates, those who do not win the Ho​bbit experience competition could engage in some vigorous short-haul flying to accumulate sufficient airpoints to make the trip across to Los Angeles. However, if this is seems financially untenable, then Google offers a viable, and free, alternative.      

In May, the online juggernaut released Chrome Experiment: a Journey through Middle-earth, a browser-based app that takes fans on an interactive journey through Middle-earth.

US-based North Kingdom collaborated with Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures to produce the app, which currently shares web space with various other innovations on the Google Chrome experiments site. 

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