Every time I see a new brand or company announce an online video contest, I cringe a little bit in anticipation of how lame it’s likely to be. Too many companies just want to get in the online video game that they put little thought into contests or offer really useless prizes. The latest brand to launch an online video contest, American Airlines, is doing things right, starting with the pun-based contest name: “Flights, Camera, Action.

American Airlines Online Video Contest

But even an online video contest with a decent prize has to have a hook–a story you want applicants to tell. For instance, in Dorito’s now-annual Super Bowl commercial contest (which I believe they’re still calling Crash the Super Bowl), they ask would-be filmmakers to create a Dorito’s commercial worthy of the big game. All too often, brands simply ask contestants to create a video “telling us why you love us,” which, whether the brands realize this or not, doesn’t motivate too many people or encourage much creativity.

So American scores again with this contest by having a better hook than simply “I love American Airlines.” Instead, they’re appealing directly to small business owners, and asking for videos about how flying helps their business grow. Notice they’re not asking for videos about how flying American helps the business grow… just flying. That’s a great move, because it helps the participants feel more like documentary filmmakers than just commercial directors. And it allows for personality to enter the mix–they’re talking about themselves and their business instead of just talking about the American Airlines brand. (Of course, plenty of entrants name-drop American Airlines in an attempt to make the contest sponsor happy).

The contest is open through the 26th of August, and you can vote for the most deserving video once every day between now and then. As you might expect, a lot of the entrants are marketing firms and video production companies–the kind of savvy outfit you might expect be quick to take part in a video contest.

Let’s take a look at some sample entries.

Here’s one from a video company called Parallel Media:

Here’s Filter Magazine’s effort:

Video production company, Yak Films, is also an applicant:

Lux Art explains why they need to travel to stay real:

Curious to know what the winning business receives? Check it out:

a. Five (5) finalists will win 10,000 Business ExtrAA points (can be redeemed for 2 round-trip AAnytime Award tickets to attend the SCORE Awards gala or 5 round-trip PlanAAhead Award tickets). They will also attend the 2011 SCORE Awards gala for announcement of Grand Prize, all expenses paid. Plus they will win an additional 3,000 Business ExtrAA points (can be redeemed for an annual Admirals Club membership) along with exposure to American Airlines customers on AA.com/business.

b.One (1) Grand Prize winner will win an additional 80,000 Business ExtrAA points (can be redeemed for 40 domestic round-trip PlanAAhead Award tickets). They will also win the ultimate exposure package to American Airlines customers:

    • A full-page ad in one issue of American Way or Nexos magazine
    • A 22″ X 28″ display at one Admirals Club lounge of your choice for one month
    • One AA.com homepage banner ad with 100,000 targeted impressions over a 1-3-month period
    • An In-Flight TV testimonial airing on American Airlines flights that features your business over a 1-month period

Another thing American is doing right is incentivizing the vote. Just by using your email to vote for a video, you are entering yourself to win 25,000 AAdvantage miles from the airline. I don’t fly American Airlines all that much, so I’m not sure what exactly that translates to, but it sure sounds like a lot of miles. Considering the cost of air travel these days, offering free miles to voters in addition to awarding the winning business a prize is a good way to encourage the contest has a good turn out.


It seems like too many companies decide to do an online video contest, and then stop right there… never giving any thought to what the contest involves and how it will help the business moving forward. Thankfully, American Airlines went beyond just the contest concept, and really thought about what would make people get involved–both contestants and voters.

There may be long term benefits to the airline as well. After all, who’s to say American can’t also make use of these videos, or pieces of them, down the road in commercials or other video works?

None of these videos are likely to go viral, but then again that wasn’t the point. The point was to use video to engage customers and get them talking about your industry and your brand. And to that end, American’s contest is a huge success.