The once stodgy chore of regulatory compliance that no-one watched, airline safety videos, have been re-invented as the carriers vie for customers’ loyalty and ‘bums on seats’.The explosion of new media platforms like Youtube, Facebook and Twitter means airlines can get the attention of millions of wannabe travellers for a fraction of what it used to cost provided they can devise “content” that interests them. In the past decade, but especially in the past three years, the records have been tumbling with video marketing analyst Tubularlabs.com estimating there were around 50 million viewings of airline safety videos on social media in the 2014-15 year – an 80 per cent leap on the year before. In October 2013, the fledgling Virgin America – the product of a difficult birth in 2007 and only just startling to break even after years of losses and still without the critical mass to launch an expensive, conventional TV advertising campaign – released what many analysts believed would be a hit that would take years to surpass.The all-singing-all-dancing showbiz video tagged #VXsafetydance smashed the airline industry’s record for “social media engagement”, racking up more than 11 million views on Youtube over the next two years.But the analysts underestimated Air New Zealand – the “small airline at the bottom of the world”, in the words of its marketing guru Mike Tod – which has been working on new ways of talking to consumers for around seven years.“We have to do things differently to get noticed and talked about,” Tod said in an interview on the Linked In network. He estimates that Air NZ videos have already been seen by close to 50 million people.Air NZ’s 2009 Bare Essentials, a video notionally about safety in which pilots and cabin crew appeared “nude” covered only in body paint and stockings, was edgy and risqué, going on to attract 7.5 million sets of eyeballs on Youtube.But in 2012 the first of its safety videos inspired by the Hobbit movies, An Unexpected Briefing, was seen by 12.5 million people.That led to the second in the series, 2014’s modestly titled The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made , which still holds the Youtube record for the “genre” with 15.3 million views.However, with safety videos becoming the leading form of marketing “content” the industry is aiming at its customers, other airlines are now showing just what can be achieved.In the run-up to Christmas 2015, Qatar Airways, released its first safety video featuring the stars of one of the world’s most glamorous football teams, FC Barcelona, as part of its global “branding” campaign, Going Places Together. The video has become an instant hit.Instead of taking two years to hit double-figure million views on Youtube like Virgin America’s #VXsafetydance, it smashed that barrier in just a month, racking up 11.2 million views.Safety videos are just one component of the new world of social media marketing that technology has enabled in the past decade, but those at the coalface swear by their ability to woo new customers.“What we have learned with recent videos like our final Hobbit instalment [The Most Epic Safety Video …] and the Sports Illustrated collaboration [Safety In Paradise] is that these pieces of content can put bums on seats,” says Air NZ’s Mike Tod. “We saw a significant spike in sales to the Cook Islands immediately following the launch of the Sports Illustrated collaboration and we had an online sales day record in the US when the latest Hobbit safety video launched,” he says. “Interestingly, in the period following the launch of the Bear Grylls-fronted video shot on the Routeburn track in the [NZ] South Island, the Department of Conservation saw the number of people using the Great Walks increase by more than 10%.”Air NZ is already plotting the next in what has become an annual safety video – “with some household names who we would love to have on board”, according to Tod – which is anything but a bureaucratic regulatory compliance, as the NZ regulator has allowed the airline creative licence as long as the underlying safety message gets through. In the meantime, it is devising new video challenges to connect with its customers like the tear-jerking Santa Stop Here released before Christmas 2015.