WestJet lights up a giant roulette wheel

The airline breaks two world records en route to its latest Las Vegas-focused stunt.

WestJet has become well-known for taking chances on experiential campaigns that surprise and reward its customers, but a recent gamble to bring the spirit of Las Vegas to some lucky passengers was its biggest yet.

As a WestJet flight from Toronto crossed over the Mojave Desert on its descent into Las Vegas, a kilometre-wide LED roulette wheel was illuminated. The wheel began “spinning,” cycling through the seat numbers on the plane before settling on 4A. The winner was given a sizeable jackpot – including a $2,500 shopping spree, two round-trip flights from WestJet and tickets to several attractions and entertainment in the city, among many other prizes – while everyone else on the flight were given discounted tickets to Cirque du Soleil, complementary cocktails from STK at The Cosmopolitan, and $25 gift cards for the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood.

In creating a prize wheel large enough to be seen from the plane at 12,000 feet, WestJet also broke two Guinness World Records: the greatest light output in a projected image and largest circular projection.

“Since we began working on this idea six months ago, there were so many times we just thought it was going to die because of all the logistical issues,” says Aaron Starkman, partner and creative director at Rethink, which led the campaign. “So many people within the WestJet organization would have to be involved. And to our amazement, the marketing team was able to talk to flight operations, with pilots, with control towers, with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. So many people were involved in collaborating to make this happen, it was astonishing.”

From here, the video will live on social with the hashtag #WestJetVegasSurprise, though related assets will be aired on broadcast over the coming months during Blue Jays telecasts. Though he wouldn’t reveal what they are, Rob Daintree, director of marketing at WestJet, says the company has a number of other surprises of various scales planned for passengers between now and mid-July.

WestJet has flown over 8.8 million people to Las Vegas since 2005, not only making the city one of the airline’s most popular U.S. destinations, but also making WestJet the top international carrier to the city.

“Our primary objective was to celebrate the destination and the partnership we’ve had with Las Vegas since 2005,” Daintree says. “From here it’s about keeping the momentum going. This isn’t a one and done piece, it’s very much a sustained presence. We’ll be actively using the hashtag to engage with travelers, and the surprises will vary and be unique.”

Experiential, surprise-focused activations for its passengers – with content being utilized primarily in digital channels – have become a major staple of WestJet’s marketing, be it in its “Christmas Miracles” or surprising passengers on a flight to Las Vegas last year.

“It’s a proven model for us,” Daintree says. “We’ve been able to generate a lot of success and recognition in that space. It’s something we’re known for in some ways. For us, it’s just continuing to push ourselves and continue to take things to the next level, which we think we’ve done here.”

The campaign was Rethink’s first work with WestJet. Daintree says the company reached out to engage Rethink on a project basis, and continues to work with other agencies including Publicis Canada – its creative agency of record – and Studio M, which handled production on the Vegas campaign.

“We’ve worked with other partners outside of our AOR in the past, and we continue to do so,” Daintree says. “When you look at everything that’s going on within our organization, there’s a lot of exciting things happening. We wanted to look at a partner like Rethink, based on their experience doing some of these larger than life activations. They felt like a good fit.”