WestJet: the magic behind the Christmas miracle

6a00d8341c730253ef019b0288af7b970c-800wiI love talking about awesome organizations. Last week I wrote about how Starbucks demonstrated Twitter brilliance with their Tweet-a-Coffee campaign.

This week I want to write about how WestJet once again demonstrated YouTube brilliance,  but their brilliance goes much deeper, as I discovered after talking with Greg Hounslow, Emerging Media Advisor at WestJet.

Greg was gracious enough to spend 20 minutes talking with me about their Christmas Miracle video, despite the onslaught of media requests.

If you haven’t seen the video yet,  watch it, it’s embedded at the end of this post.

The video shows WestJet passengers talking to Santa on a kiosk screen, telling him what they want for Christmas.  Once they board the plane, WestJet staff at the destination city strategically work to get the gifts. When the passengers arrive,  the wrapped presents start coming down the luggage conveyer belt, completely surprising the passengers.

In just 2 days the video has been viewed over 11 million times, exceeding any expectations WestJet had.

So how did WestJet create the best video ever? Read the interview below. BTW, the video article on Mashable is the first article to be shared over 1 million times.

Interview with Greg Hounslow

Mike McCready: How are creative ideas like the Christmas Miracle video developed at WestJet?

Greg Hounslow: It’s actually a complex collaborative process, involving various internal teams.  Certain teams take the lead on projects.  In the case of this project, sponsorship took the lead.

MM: What were your primary goals?

GH: We wanted to make a video that people would enjoy watching and would create real life experiences with people that would reach beyond the 250 people involved. Ultimately, we wanted to reinforce our brand of being fun and caring.

MM:  How long was the planning process from beginning to end?

GH: We started tossing ideas around last year after the Christmas flash mob video. But the major work began this past August.

MM: You mentioned the sponsorship team took the lead on this, when were sponsors approached?

GH: Since we are a low-cost carrier, we knew sponsors were needed to be involved to find savings, but we had to have a solid idea before approaching sponsors.

MM: What actions did you take to promote the video?

GH: We reached out to a team of media outlets and bloggers to get the video spread as quickly as possible.  Whoopi Goldberg talked about the video on The View.  It was talked about on Good Morning America.  Once these things happen, things really took off.

MM: I have to ask.  Did the guy who asked for underwear and socks get anything else or just underwear and socks?

GH: We worked really hard to give people what they asked for, but we did sweeten the deal for him and gave him a new hockey stick too.

MM: This video (along with everything WestJet does) demonstrates the awesomeness that is WestJet and I’m sure many organizations see your video and think, “sure that’s great, but it’s WestJet, we can’t do that.”  Do you have suggestions for organizations that want to be awesome and think outside the box?

GH: Its definitely a challenge to be different. It has to exist in the culture of each organization. The best advice I could offer is to try to do your best to convince those at the top to take a chance.  If you’re at the top, then release a bit of control and trust people.  If you don’t trust people and release control, you’ll always have cookie cutter approaches. You can’t do great things unless you have the right culture to go outside your comfort zone.  In addition, WestJet has been working on social campaigns for 4 years, so it doesn’t happen over night.  The idea has to ring true to the brand. Companies that have a sweet spot for viral marketing often allow creative thinking.

How to Create Awesome Experiences

This video can be a rally call for organizations to look for ways to be awesome and exceed expectations of customers – not just meet them.  So to sum up Greg’s comments, here’s what’s required to create an awesome experience that can go viral:

  • You need organizational buy-in and support from various internal teams. Don’t set out to do it on your own.
  • Create a video that people want to watch and stay true to your brand.
  • Give yourself enough time for planning.
  • Develop an outreach strategy and connect with influencers to help spread the word.
  • Ensure you have the right culture in place and empower employees to think creatively.
  • Don’t expect it to happen overnight. It will take trial and error to figure out the right sweet spot.

WestJet Christmas Miracle Video


  • JBacon

    Loved this read Mike! I shared the video and this post with my team. It was great to learn about the PR push that made the campaign truly take flight. I liken it to the old question about a tree falling in a forest. If you do a great campaign and spend months planning it only to benefit 250… is it truly worth it? The PR push made all the difference.

  • http://www.mikemccready.ca/blog/ Mike McCready

    Thanks. I shared it with our leadership teams too and it has been a bit of a rally call. In addition to the PR push, the fact that the culture supported this and wanted to give back was why it was successful. So how can we as organizations harness this desire for out-of-the-box thinking?

  • Steve Martin


    Love the entire video! Nice work!
    Has there been any curiosity about the stunningly beautiful WestJet employee featured as the still on the front of the video? Who is she? Without her photo on the front of it, I’ll bet it would have taken a lot longer to “go big”.

  • http://www.mikemccready.ca/blog/ Mike McCready

    You’re probably right Steve. I suspect the strategically chose that frame to be the thumbnail.