China Airlines' Unconventional Campaign Charms Fans Worldwide

Flaky flight from Leo Burnett Taiwan

What happens in Vegas—and Bangkok, Rome, New York and Macao, for that matter—doesn't necessarily stay there. In some cases, folks carry the experience of travel long after returning home. 

China Airlines, the largest carrier in Taiwan (the Republic of China, as opposed to the People's Republic), delivers that lesson with a twist of deliciously dark humor in this counterintuitive campaign from Leo Burnett. The initiative has charmed viewers worldwide, with its centerpiece video notching nearly 10 million global views and more than 50,000 likes in just two weeks. 

In the spot, we meet young Taiwanese travelers who've been changed in various unsettling ways by recent trips abroad. One woman has put on a few unwanted pounds, another spent all her money, while a third returned pregnant. Other getaways yield an ill-considered quickie Vegas wedding, a mysterious back tattoo and a haunted figurine. 

This message comes at the end: "You never know what travel will bring to your life. Let's go find out." It challenges viewers to escape their daily grind and take a chance on adventures that might offer some measure of personal transformation. 

Consider: Would the statue be as intriguing if it wasn't haunted? As for that tattoo, it's a great conversation starter. (Hey, it can always be removed—ouch!) As for the pregnancy, well, you can't trust those home test kits, anyway.

It's all in good fun, and the spot's casually uncomfortable tone helps the storyline soar. 

To younger generations, travel means "something more than making friends jealous with gorgeous pictures on Instagram, crossing off places from a wish list, or buying little keychains and other clutter we bring from faraway places," says Murphy Chou, chief creative officer at Leo Burnett Taiwan, in a blog post.

"We found that travel meant the experience that leaves a mark on life, by changing the way we think, look and feel—or even a change to our whole life."

This marks the carrier's second unconventional flight, following last year's somewhat similarly themed "The Trip You Have Promised," about people who put off travel just a little too long. 

Of late, the skies have grown crowded with ambitious campaigns, including Turkish Airlines amazing sojourn with Lego, S7's tourism primer about Earth (targeting extraterrestrials, of course), and an elaborate cinematic love story from Finnair and Helsinki Airport.

Muse spoke to Chou about the campaign:

Where, exactly, did this idea come from?

According to a survey, young people are looking for new experiences, new cultural influences and even adventures happening to them when traveling, instead of the stereotypical sightseeing stuff. We wanted to show these adventures and rich encounters in our ad, but it would have been too time-consuming and costly to shoot them all and most likely not brilliant enough. Also, in the end it may have turned out to be not much different from other travel advertisements. We needed a more refined, simpler way to tell our message.

In one of our discussions, we talked about everyone who travels bringing back some local souvenirs, such as small key rings or T-shirts. These souvenirs usually represent a place you have been to. But what kind of souvenirs represent the experiences, stories and adventures that happened in this place? That's when we started to list the "souvenirs" that could represent these truly valuable experiences, including huge bills from shopping sprees, a broken snowboard and broken leg, some casino chips, an unexpected pregnancy, an exotic lover, a marriage certificate from Vegas, a tattoo on the back and many more.

You can even imagine the plot and details of these stories [behind each souvenir], even if you don't see them in a film. 

Many of the stories represented in the film have been experienced by members of our creative team, such as the broken leg while snowboarding in Hokkaido, a tattoo from Amsterdam, and the haunted knight from Edinburgh. Of course, some have been tweaked to make them even more fun.

Were any ideas too silly or scary to use?

We had one story about a beloved bag that got stolen in a European city, which the client asked us to remove out of concern that this might [hurt] … the image of that city and its people. We immediately removed this part since it was not essential to the core idea. 

Who is the audience, and why would this approach appeal to them?

Our target audience are young people aged 25-35 who love to travel. For them, travel is to seek new cultural experiences and regain energy before returning to their daily lives. It's this ocean of possibilities that attracts young people to travel. 

The experiences you show are a bit upsetting, though.

Well, this is real life we are talking about, and in real life not all adventures and experiences are as perfect as seen in ads. The consequences of these so-called "negative" outcomes are actually the stories worth telling. And isn't that exactly what people are looking for also on social channels—a good story, a good laugh and something worth telling? 

In the ad, are there some in-jokes we in the West wouldn't get?

I think for westerners the "Brought From Seoul" scene might not be so easy to understand. But in Taiwan, we all know that Seoul and South Korea are famous for plastic surgery. Many people will go to Seoul to undergo plastic surgery and return with a beautiful face. Others, I think, are all universally easy to understand.

Are you surprised by how popular the latest ad is getting?

I knew this film would definitely resonate with Taiwanese consumers and would certainly be discussed and welcomed. But I really didn't expect so many foreign media outside of Taiwan, Hong Kong and China to report on our film.

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is senior editor at Clio Awards.