I had that moment this week, when I finally watched the now-famous WestJet Santa video tearing up my NewsFeed – currently sitting on 15 million views and counting. The premise is simple: Before they board, passengers on a WestJet flight get asked by a digital Santa what they want for Christmas. While they’re in the air, teams from WestJet procure all the gifts, which are wrapped, individually addressed, and distributed via the baggage carousel at the destination.
Almost everyone I know loves it, and the comments are overwhelmingly favorable, including here on MediaPost. It’s a gorgeous bit of kitsch. It pulls the heartstrings. It’s a brilliant marketing ploy. I LOLed. But it made me uncomfortable.
It made me uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. We’re celebrating the giving of socks, underwear, and flat-screen TVs to first-world people who are already well-off enough to live above what Hans Rosling calls the “Air Line” -- the richest one billion people on the planet.
But there’s more to it than that. As the people were describing what they wanted, I wondered how they would feel when they got what they asked for -- and a small, highly unenlightened part of me imagined disappointment. The guy with the socks and undies -- surely he would regret not having gone for the big-screen? Or a car or a house or a private plane? And so greed, disappointment and a sense of entitlement can spring from gratitude at the unexpected granting of wishes.
Then there is the transparency of it all. It’s a magical conflation of consumerism and generosity, of purchases with delight. Our love and loyalty are being unashamedly acquired, our emotions explicitly manipulated. We are asked to accept wholesale the premise that with great products comes great happiness -- especially if you fly WestJet.
As I spiraled down this cynical tunnel of resentment, I came to realize that, most surely, I am the Grinch. Can’t I just let it go? Can’t I just be gracious enough to accede to Westjet its success, to enjoy the spirit of the season and the nature of gift-giving? Am I truly the horrible one?
But I have come to realize I am not alone. Earlier today, my friend John Price wrote on his Facebook wall, “I’m sorry, call me a Christmas hating cynical bastard if you want but that West jet Christmas present prank is simply a heart string pulling public relations campaign which only further perpetuates the destructive tradition of buying and giving things we don't need… Would have loved seen [sic] that much money donated to a charity of some kind…” The MediaPost piece got a piece of similar feedback from Jim Thompson: “At the risk of sounding like a downer, I kept thinking that it would have been way better if they had used the money to buy coats (it can get cold in Canada) or toys for poor kids. The 50" TV was what pushed me over the edge.”
Notice a pattern here? All three of us feel bad about feeling bad. We are the Grinches, the Christmas-hating cynical bastards, the downers… But we are honest. Which is, it seems to me, what this video is lacking. WestJet is not your friend. It is a corporation trying to sell you airplane tickets. And that is a piece of information I give to you for free. Happy holidays -- and bah, humbug.