Air New Zealand began life in 1940 as an international airline servicing Australia and the Pacific. Originally called TEAL, and jointly owned by New Zealand, Australia and Britain, much of its early advertising showcased Maori and Pacific art and culture and “beautifully illustrated, highly stylised images crafted using the airline’s corporate colours of blues and teals”.
The ‘50s were the age of the flying boat and the ‘60s were the dawn of the jet age, which saw more New Zealanders than ever flying the luxurious, smoke-filled, whiskey-drenched skies. It was also a new era for Air New Zealand, which took on its current name in 1965 when it absorbed domestic carrier NZ National Airways Corporation and started adding popular new routes like Los Angeles, Hong Kong and, in 1982, its 747s to London (it promoted the route with the ‘Ritz of the skies’ campaign).
The airline underwent a major rebranding in the ‘90s at the hands of British design firm Davies Baron and local firm Dave Clark Design Associates and this was seen as a watershed moment for the airline’s evolution into an international brand. The new branding, known as the ‘Pacific Wave’, incorporated two stylised ribbons in the traditional brand colours and covered the interior and exterior of its aircraft to offices, vehicles, crockery, uniforms and much more.
After navigating a bit of financial turbulence and being bailed out by the government, Air New Zealand realised it couldn’t compete against its much larger competitors by buying ads, so it started to compete on personality, embracing the casual, unstuffy but attentive nature of its staff in its promotions and taking creative risks to get global attention.
The first of its unique safety videos debuted in 2009 and featured a host of body painted staff, including then chief executive Rob Fyfe. It launched to massive media attention worldwide and within ten days had racked up over three million views online. Since then it’s also made use of the All Blacks, a puerile puppet called Rico, Betty White, Bear Grylls and a number of characters from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies (Air New Zealand’s growth has mirrored that of New Zealand as a tourist destination and, just as Tourism New Zealand benefitted from its association with the movies, Air New Zealand did too after signing up as ‘the official Airline of Middle-earth’).
Through a combination of great staff, amazing customer service, a solid safety record, impressive product innovation and world class promotional efforts, it’s gained a stellar international reputation, won a steady stream of airline of the year awards, made plenty of Kiwis proud and become the envy of many other airlines.
My precious indeed.
Like the Hobbits it has so ably used in its recent marketing campaigns, Air New Zealand is a comparatively tiny international airline with a big heart and a cheeky disposition. And, over the past 75 years, that attitude has shone through in its marketing.