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Betty White adds comedy to in-flight safety video

Harriet Baskas, Special to CNBC
Tuesday, 15 Oct 2013 | 6:00 AM ET
Betty White from Air New Zealand ad "Safety Old School Style"
Image Source: YouTube
Betty White from Air New Zealand ad "Safety Old School Style"

Air New Zealand, the airline that brought us safety videos featuring exercise-celebrity Richard Simmons, characters from the Hobbit movies and nearly naked crew members with "Nothing to Hide," is at is again.

This time the airline has gone retro, offering passengers on its fleet of Airbus A320s a lesson in "Safety Old School Style" set in a retirement community and starring Betty White, an actress familiar from television shows such as "The Golden Girls," and "Hot in Cleveland."

The reasoning behind having older people instruct modern-day travelers in onboard safety is simple, says White at the beginning of the video, "If you want to know about survival, talk to us; because you're going to want some advice from people who have been there and done that."

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Other familiar faces in the video include Gavin MacLeod, who appeared with White on the "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and, later, as the captain on "The Love Boat." Actor Jimmy Weldon, who lends his voice to Yakky Doodle duck on "The Yogi Bear Show," also has a cameo appearance.

Jodi Williams, Air New Zealand's head of global brand development, said safety videos are "first and foremost a means of communicating important safety messages," but this fun, nontraditional approach to delivering the information is "incredibly effective by getting people onboard our aircraft to actually take notice."

It's also a good investment in the airline's brand. While creative videos cost more to produce than traditional ones, "they double as an incredibly effective tool for raising brand awareness globally," said Williams, who noted that the safety videos such as "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Briefing" have been viewed almost 11 million times on YouTube.

"Air New Zealand has possibly done more for airline safety than any other airline in the world, all while entertaining travelers and thinking differently about aviation marketing," said Shashank Nigam, CEO of SimpliFlying, a global aviation marketing strategy firm.

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Other airlines, including U.S.-based Virgin America and Delta Air Lines, non-traditional safety videos as well.

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"The feedback on safety on videos is that people usually just disconnect because it's the same story again and again," said Mauricio Parise, marketing communications director at Delta Air Lines, "especially for those business travelers that fly once or more a week."

To that end, Delta has been trying to make its safety videos "more exciting, while keeping safety in mind."

Beginning in 2008, Delta began running a safety video featuring one of its employees, Katherine Lee, later nicknamed "Deltalina," as the key presenter.

"She gave a sexy spin to the story, without going too overboard. The reaction was amazing," said Parise. So far the video has been viewed almost 3 million times on YouTube.

Eighteen months ago, Delta shot three new versions of its safety video and those have been showing on planes (and on the Internet) for the past year. "They're creative and some funny things happen in them," said Parise. "Deltalina has a cameo role, but everything is serious from a safety perspective."

To keep content fresh and passengers engaged, Air New Zealand is already planning the video that will replace "Safety Old School Style." And Delta has a new set of videos it will roll out this winter.

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And while he can't put a specific dollar value to the return on investment in an engaging safety video, Parise is confident Delta's investment is worth it.

"It's creates a stronger engagement between the airline and a passenger," Parise said. "Each touchpoint adds value to the brand and we have a captive audience for five minutes during that safety video."

—By Harriet Baskas, Special to CNBC.com. She is the author of seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas.

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