Williams gets creative with in-flight 'Pink' bash

Most adults hate the airport. Even if they're excited about a vacation, getting there is often tedious. But for a night, Air New Zealand tried to change that on its "Pink Flight" from San Francisco to Sydney in celebration of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Most adults hate the airport. Even if they're excited about a vacation, getting there is often tedious. But for a night, Air New Zealand tried to change that on its "Pink Flight" from San Francisco to Sydney in celebration of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

The February 26 event set a new precedent for air-travel fun - starting at the ticket counter, which was bathed in pink backlighting, where four drag queens draped with pink-feather boas greeted passengers.

"We want people to see flying as the beginning of their vacation," says Jodi Williams, director of marketing for Air New Zealand Americas, who led the initiative. "We're fortunate [to] have a board and executive team that are open to pushing boundaries."

Once through security, passengers walked a long, pink carpet to the gate area, where a party was in full swing with pink cocktails, pink food, and pink leather couches. The airplane donned a giant, pink boa, while the flight crew, including pilots in pink hats, performed a dance routine.

"People [had] a great time," Williams says. "Everyone was surprised an airline would do this."

Comedian Kathy Griffin hosted the flight, while the Bravo Net-work, which filmed it for her show, My Life on the D-List, was among the 10 or so camera crews on hand. The party continued throughout the 14-hour flight, where Griffin and the drag queens provided entertainment. The flight ran nearly full and earned almost 300 million media impressions, including on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

"[The] Pink Flight delivered higher than expected return in brand awareness and connection with the LGBT market," says Mike Tod, Air New Zealand's GM of public affairs and group communications. "Jodi is an exceptional listener and thinker. She [is] open to new ideas and combine[s] those with the best of her own to create compelling campaigns."

The airline moved Williams, a native kiwi, to LA last July to oversee North American PR, advertising, e-commerce, and online marketing. "She pushes us to think outside the box," says Larry Lentz, online marketing manager of Air New Zealand North America. "To see the success of it is just great."

Williams admits there are challenges of the market. "It's a mind shift coming from a [place] where we're a household name to [one] where no one knows [us]," she says. "It forces us to think innovatively. We've always had a substantial team [here], but it was... sales- focused. We'd done traditional print ads and campaigns. This past year, we've turned it upside-down. In a market like this, opportunities to innovate are endless."

The LGBT market is vital to Air New Zealand. (The country is known for liberal social reform, electing a transgender person to national office in 1999 and recognizing same-sex civil unions in 2004). An Auckland-to-Sydney Pink Flight that operated last year inspired Williams to try it here. She credits her internal team and CRT/tanaka for pulling off the elaborate effort on a longer flight.

Lentz says the Pink Flight "put Air New Zealand on the radar," and he's heard other airlines are thinking of following suit.

"It created great PR internally and externally," Williams says. "Back home, we [have] 10,000 employees. They think it's great."

Williams and her team will "continue to push the brand to set high, creative benchmarks." Next up: A mid-April guerrilla campaign promoting the LA to London route. An in-flight concierge will also launch soon on long-haul flights.

Jodi Williams

2007-present
Air New Zealand, director of marketing, Americas

2004-2007
Air New Zealand, brand experience manager

1998-2004
Air New Zealand, product development manager

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