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Air New Zealand gets flak for 'sexist' swimsuit video

Air New Zealand has become well-known for its unusual in-flight safety videos, which in the past have included big names such as Betty White, Richard Simmons and Snoop Dogg.

But the carrier has been criticized for its latest offering, featuring five scantily-clad models as part of a collaboration with Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition.

Air New Zealand

Some customers took to social media sites Twitter and Facebook to complain about it.

While Hilary Barry tweeted: "Air New Zealand's new safety video has made me very angry. Shame on you and shame on the message you are perpetuating."

The video has swimsuit models Chrissy Teigen, Ariel Meredith, Hannah Davis and Jessica Gomes explaining the airline's safety procedures in various tropical settings on the Cook Islands.

It highlights their physical appeal, with lingering body shots and scenes depicting men staring longingly at the women.

Not impressed was Facebook user Kiran Tara Murphy Gupta, who posted on the company's official Facebook page, "Ever heard of objectification? I thought better of you, Air New Zealand. Stop using women's bodies to sell flights. #notbuyingitObject! Women Not Sex Objects."

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Reputational risk?

Andre Spicer, professor of organizational behavior at Cass Business School in London, told CNBC that Air New Zealand faced some risk from the backlash.

"The important thing for companies to consider when employing humor in communications is how it gels with their brand—and this works quite well with Air New Zealand's slightly irreverent, down-to-earth branding," he said.

"But there's a risk that not all of their audience will find it so amusing," Spicer added. "A business customer from the Middle East might be shocked, as could someone who views safety of utmost importance while flying."

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A spokesperson for the airline, however, said it had been careful to ensure the "Safety in Paradise" video was tasteful.

"Naturally, given this safety video celebrates 50 years of Sports Illustrated ... it made sense to feature some of the magazine's most well-known models," Air New Zealand said in a statement.

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Indeed, a large number of customers appeared to agree, praising the video on social media.

Facebook user Graeme Lee Main posted, "It's a totally innocent non sexual, playful way of dealing with a serious subject. Well done Air New Zealand."

On Twitter, Peter Buhlev described it as the "best safety video ever."

Lynsey Sweales, CEO of social media and online marketing agency SocialB, told CNBC the video was clever marketing.

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"It's a fun way to bring a serious subject to life and has been very cleverly done," she said .

"When there's so much video content around, companies have to do something out of the ordinary to get people's attention," Sweales said. "There's a fine line when it comes to offending people, but let's not forget that people will find fault in everything."

By CNBC's Katrina Bishop. Follow her on Twitter @KatrinaBishop and Google

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