JetBlue’s Documentary Nails One of the Toughest Content Marketing Challenges

One of the hardest content marketing challenges to tackle is creating work that resonates with a wide audience and stays true to your brand. Producing a viral hit is nice, but it won’t do much good if it’s totally irrelevant or, worse, antithetical to what your company stands for.

Perhaps no piece of content marketing did a better job of combining resonance and relevance in 2015 than “HumanKinda,” a 16-minute documentary JetBlue released in October to draw people’s attention to the growing epidemic of “busyness” in American culture. In addition to being a playful look at why we never seem to have enough time for ourselves, the short film tied in perfectly with JetBlue’s mantra of “bringing humanity back to air travel.”

“It was really about addressing something that we’ve seen as a societal endemic,” said Morgan Johnston, JetBlue’s corporate communications manager. “I think we felt JetBlue is an airline whose focus is on inspiring humanity. We were the only ones who could really tell this story among our set.”

The documentary, hosted by comedian and Veep actor Sam Richardson, follows a single mother and a man working eight jobs. Throughout the film, Richardson tries to help them find more time to relax. By including both a serious interview with a sociology expert and a scene in which one of the subjects comically dumps his phone into a kiddie pool, “HumanKinda” does a great job of keeping viewers laughing while forcing them to consider how they can make their own lives less busy.

What’s also notable about this project is the medium JetBlue used to convey its message: a short film. The airline was one of several travel brands, along with Marriott and Airbnb, that relied on longer videos this past year as a way to connect with its audience. Phillip Ma, JetBlue’s manager of brand advertising and content, told Digiday, “A regular campaign with shortform content would not have been able to spark conversation on the scale we wanted.”

In addition to sparking a conversation, the depth of more ambitious pieces of content like “HumanKinda” gives travel companies the opportunity to weave their brands into the story without being intrusive. For instance, JetBlue tickets are shown on-screen as Richardson offers passersby in Midtown Manhattan the opportunity to fly to Puerto Rico for free, on the condition that they leave that day. Otherwise, though, the company’s logo and name are absent, save for “Presented by” tags at the beginning and end of the film.

This hands-off approach to branding was bolstered by the fact that JetBlue worked with relevant influencers to create and promote the documentary. While the idea for the project was conceived by the company’s ad agency, MullenLowe, JetBlue chose to take it to Bianca Giaever, a director with a strong track record of telling people’s personal stories in a humanizing manner for outlets like The New York Times, NPR, and BuzzFeed. After the film was complete, the company screened it at an event moderated by media mogul Arianna Huffington, who has spoken passionately about how important it is for people to take time away from their work to restore themselves.

While other travel brands have approached the relentless work culture, few have done so as thoughtfully and thoroughly as JetBlue. Costa Rica’s tourism board, for instance, made a music video in which singing animals attempt to “save the Americans” by imploring them to take a break from their long office hours. The U.K.’s Ethos Travel produced print ads with overloaded schedules that spelled out messages like “Help me God” and “Make it stop.” In both cases, the message was humorous but a little more self-serving: You’re working too much, so you should give us your money to take a trip.

By contrast, JetBlue’s documentary on “busyness” shed light on a very human story, providing entertainment and educational value to people even if they couldn’t book a vacation. In doing so, the brand furthered its reputation as a company that cares about consumers, which fits in with prior projects, like when JetBlue gave free flights to altruistic social media users and offered humorous tips for how customers could be more considerate of their fellow passengers.

“We wanted the film to be able to stand up on its own merits without a lot of JetBlue branding,” Johnston said. “We didn’t want it to be a commercial. We wanted it to be a commentary.”

To date, the video has been viewed more than 100,000 times on YouTube. More importantly, Johnston said JetBlue has been happy to see people on social media using the documentary exactly as it was intended: as a means to start a conversation with their friends and family about whether our commitment to work is really helping us get the most out of our time.

This is an excerpt from the e-book “The Marketer’s Guide to Travel Content.”

Image by Getty

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