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?