Air New Zealand have been innovative with their in-flight safety instruction videos over the years. They introduced a muppet-like character Rico who chatted with minor celebrities and shocked some people with jokes sometimes loaded with sexual innuendo. After Rico's demise they brought Richard Simmons in to juice up the instructions. More recently the airline has partnered with New Zealand's government tourism organisation and the makers of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies to get passengers ready for their incredible journey. The latest, a tie-in with Sports Illustrated and Pacific Island destinations features Sports Illustrated swimsuit models performing the safety instructions. It has been controversial. Some find the video gratuitous and sexist. Others don't mind. They argue that, if it gets people to pay attention to the safety information, then it must be a good thing.
What interests me is whether the novelty of performing a safety video detracts from your ability to absorb the information. On one hand attracting attention sometimes requires a device to 'cut through'. This is important when the audience has multiple choices: they could simply turn the page of the magazine they are reading, change to another television channel or simply ignore information (imagine the overwhelming amount of stimulus there is in places like Times Square). In a commercial passenger plane the passengers have no alternative but to watch the video - though jaded travelers will more than likely ignore it. So a 'creative' element to attract attention may not be necessary.
Let's just say that the models now have your attention. Terrific. Will you be more receptive to the safety information if it placed in an exotic context, far removed from the reality of your economy class seat? The picture of the volleyball player on the right illustrates the point that your brain will play tricks on you when it is expected to perform double duty. In a way it is like multitasking - something human beings don't do well at regardless of their gender. "The brain is a sequential processor, unable to pay attention to two things at the same time. Businesses and schools praise multitasking, but research clearly shows that it reduces productivity and increases mistakes." - Brain Rules
But it's not that simple. We don't pay attention to boring things either. It's hard to image a modern airliner actually crashing - and even thinking about that pre-takeoff is an irritation "What you get me on the plane then you tell me it might be dangerous!?". The unlikelihood of plane crashing means the message is a low priority and one our unconscious would rather not confront. So maybe dressing the information up…or undressing it… might compensate. We call that borrowed interest. Illusionists might call it distraction.
Quoting Brain Rules again: "We pay attention to things like emotions, threats and sex. Regardless of who you are, the brain pays a great deal of attention to these questions: Can I eat it? Will it eat me? Can I mate with it? Will it mate with me? Have I seen it before?". So the airline might be juggling the pro's and con's. I'm setting aside the influence of the marketing department over the health and safety folks at this point - that's a discussion for another time.
It would be interesting to perform an experiment to determine how much information is extracted and meaningfully retained from an information video like the one above and something that Lufthansa or SwissAir might produce. Maybe a simulation? The starboard engine has been blown off by a North Korean missile and the aircraft is spiralling towards the ocean from 30,000 feet. An oxygen mask has fallen in front of your face - do you remember want to do?
Personally I'd take a last draught of my Bloody Mary and accept my fate or hope that the aircraft has a pilot like the Captain Sullenberger (who ditched in the Hudson River with no loss of life).
This blog is a notepad of contemporaneous and sometimes extemporaneous thoughts about creativity, strategy and ideas.