Ready for a getaway? WestJet wants to help

Who: WestJet, with Rethink for creative, Animals Production for production (Leigh Marling directing), with Saints Edtiorial, Alter Ego and Vapor Music. Media by Media Experts.

What: “The Escape,” a new campaign featuring excited vacationers struggling to remember some of the basic rules of travel after nearly two years away. It is the airline’s first major campaign since 2019’s “Cattle” ad, said brand manager Mariam Wilton (the airline abruptly pulled a June ad called “Victoria” shortly after its debut, saying only that information about the video ad caused “concerns”).

When & Where: The campaign launched on Tuesday across broadcast and digital media, targeting a segment that WestJet calls premium travellers—primarily millennials in the prime of their career, said Wilton. It’s also running ads on online gaming channels Twitch and Apex Gaming for the first time. “[W]ith this specific concept, we thought it would work really well within the gaming area and allow us to reach some unduplicated audiences,” said Wilton.

Why: Fall is historically a time when Canadians begin contemplating a holiday vacation or spring break trip, so it’s about ensuring they think about WestJet when it comes time to book their trip. The campaign also comes as Canadians slowly begin to consider travelling again as pandemic restrictions start to ease. “We know that Canadians are excited to get back to travelling again, but they’re a bit out of practice,” said Wilton, adding that WestJet is seeing increased demand for tickets as the vaccine roll-out continues.

How: The campaign is centred around a 60-second anchor spot that uses a classic bit of misdirection to deliver the message about people re-familiarizing themselves with the various aspects of air travel, and how the airline’s staff (known internally as WestJetters) can help guide them through what has become an unfamiliar process.

Shot around downtown Toronto and the city’s Pearson Airport, the fast-paced ad opens with four people making what appears to be a getaway following a heist. They’re dressed head-to-toe in black, and one is carrying a duffel bag that’s spilling out $50 bills. They jump into a vehicle and speed off through the city. “We’re not gonna make it,” says one. “Stick to the plan and stay calm,” says another.

After reaching their destination, they peel off their black outfits to reveal colourful clothes, and one of the members hands out their passports. The payoff comes when we learn that it’s a family preparing for a trip to Cancun, and the bag is spilling out money because the dad has literally forgotten how to pack. A WestJetter steps in to assure the family that she’ll help them make their flight. “Sorry, it’s been a while,” says the mother. “It’s been a long time for everyone,” the WestJetter responds.

The lead spot is accompanied by a pair of 15-second ads. “Out of practice” shows our family taking the required steps to board an aircraft (removing belt and shoes, taking a laptop out of a bag, etc.) only to be told that they’re only at the check-in, and that security is next. “Out of practice? We can help,” say the accompanying supers. The other shows the family excited about their first vacation in a long while, with their enthusiasm matched by the WestJet staffer.

“We wanted to come to market in a really clever way that highlighted our WestJetters, but built off a human truth that [people are out of practice],” said Wilton. “It’s been nearly two years since they were on an aircraft, and the experience looks a little bit different, and it certainly feels a little bit more stressful.”

And we quote: “I was just at the airport, and it felt totally frantic. I forgot so many of the little things about travelling, like [restrictions around] gels and liquids and your laptop needs to come out of the bag. While that’s a common feeling, so is being immensely excited about travel again—especially for vacation. We tried to capture both, and we wanted to create something that was hard to turn off.” — Aaron Starkman, chief creative officer and creative director, Rethink

Chris Powell