Smaug: Air New Zealand’s Creative Pseudo-Event

Monday, Air New Zealand landed a Boeing  777-300 aircraft with 54-meter (177-foot) images of the dragon from Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy. This event was an excellent example of a public relations pseudo-event.

The event revolved around revealing the image of the new Hobbit dragon, Smaug. This is the first time that fans had the opportunity to see Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the dragon from J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit. Trailers for the movie only revealed the dragon’s eye, leaving the rest to the imagination.

The company behind the event, Admark, teamed up with Air New Zealand to install the decal on a Boeing 777-300 aircraft. Representatives from the airlines noted that the image will remain on the airplane until the third movie premiers in 2014.

Is the image a simple “flying billboard”? No, it’s a pseudo-event, a pre-planned event to capture public/media attention. Daniel Boorstin in his book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America defines a pseudo-event as: (1) not spontaneous, it has been planned in advance (2) constructed for the purpose of fostering media attention (3) not dependent on real events or a situation (4) is a self-fulfilling prophecy (if the event is designed to be positive, it will be perceived as positive).

Does the Air New Zealand’s event fit Boorstin’s definition? Absolutely. The event was planned, well in advance, designed to capture public attention, based on a fictional work, and it established a self-fulfilling prophecy, to complete the story gap left by the trailer, revealing the Smaug’s eye.

Boorstin (2012) also notes that the public thinks in images more than ideals. The image of a flying dragon in the book or on film is abstract, fictional, and obscure. However the image created larger than life on a Boeing 777-300 is concrete, believable, and vivid. The event also helps blend the fictional and real world, transferring a Middle Earth quality to the airline.

In the past the tourism board of New Zealand has capitalized on the film series and launched a public relations campaign, New Zealand – Home of Middle Earth. This pseudo-event fits well into this campaign. If you are planning on traveling to New Zealand, home of Middle Earth, why not fly on a dragon?

Was the pseudo-event successful? A quick news search revealed over 200 print news and over 500 online news mentions. Concerning social media just examine Air New Zealand’s USA Facebook page, they have prominently featured the event and the posts have received numerous “Likes”, comments and shares.

When planning pseudo-events, you must think creatively and larger than life. What is more creative than a flying dragon?


Is It A Strategy Or Tactic ?

A topic that commonly confuses public relations students and sometimes clients is the difference between strategy and tactics. Confusing these concepts can lead to major misunderstandings between team members and other stakeholders. There are many ways to explain the concepts, and I will give you a breakdown of the differences.

What is a Strategy?

Simply stated a strategy is an overall plan of action to achieve a particular goal or objective. Think of strategy as the “what” element of the equation. Paul Smith, author of Great Answers to Tough Marketing Questions, suggests that a strategy “…summarizes how to achieve objectives in general terms – the big picture”. It’s not the same as goals or objectives. Strategy is built on a number of factors including research and theory.

For example, environmental scanning is a strategy to acquire information from the external environment to use in issues management and crisis communication.

What is Tactic?

On the other hand, a tactic is a specific procedure, method, or activity for implementing a strategy.  If strategy is the “Big Picture” then tactics can be considered the smaller details. In a sense tactics are the ability and available resources to accomplish the strategy. Tactics should only be planned after a strategy is created. Keep in mind a tactic is not an outcome. A PR professional does not write a media release simply to write a media release, instead the media release is one specific tactic (activity) to help achieve the big picture.

A tactic in implementing environmental scanning would be to set-up a keyword alert system to inform PR professionals about potential issues and threats.

Why the Confusion?

In PR education, students are often overly focused on the tactics because they are the most visual part of a public relations campaign and students can easily relate to real world examples. In the same line of thinking clients are often more focused on tactics because they are thinking in turns of public perception. On another level creating strategy requires a considerable amount of critical thinking, as a strategy is abstract compared to concrete tactics.

There are two great ways to help solidify the differences between strategy and tactics. First, analyze great public relations campaigns, such as PRSA Silver Anvil Award winners. Copies of the winning campaigns can be found on the PRSA website and are available for PRSA and PRSSA member to download. Secondly, find a PR situation (opportunity or problem) in the media and develop a series of strategies and tactics to resolve the situation.

Or course this may involve a little time and critical thinking, but the knowledge you will gain is well worth the effort.


Here’s Looking at You Mini Drivers

This summer BMW launched a “Not Normal” public relations campaign that targeted current Mini owners in a larger than life manner.

One key tactic of the campaign centered around new “smart” electronic billboards that were capable of recognizing Minis as they passed by on the highway. The billboards then display targeted messages directed towards Mini drivers.

BMW launched the campaign in London. UKMN reported that human spotters were located at strategic positions along the highway to identify upcoming Mini drivers and then remotely send a specialized message to the billboard.

Drivers were greeted by simple and creative messages such as “Hello Green Mini Driver” or “You Da Man”. BMW (owner Mini) also planned special events related to the billboards. Nearby locations were designated as “pit stops” offering drivers free treats, fuel, or other small surprises. Additionally, drivers were given the opportunity for a Kodak moment with the special message for a keepsake.

Calling All Mini Owners

Brand loyalty is a key factor in a successful business. It cannot be generated by simple marketing or advertising, but can be developed through strategic planning and excellent public relations.

Brand loyalty is an emotional connection based on trust. BMW had an excellent understanding of this concept when they launched their “Not Normal” campaign.

By reinforcing the idea that Mini owners are unique and inventive individuals, BMW is strengthening the emotional connection between the product and the customer. The “smart” billboards increased awareness about the campaign among Mini owners and in turn invited them to engage in dialog with BMW representatives. This tactic also had the potential of increasing brand awareness in future customers by creating curiosity.

Old Technology, New Twist

Overall, this campaign is a great example of personalizing a traditional asymmetric form of communication (i.e., billboards). The campaign itself is “not normal” and helps illustrate the uniqueness of the Mini brand. It will be interesting to see if it resonates with current customers.