LifeInHel Ryan Zhu

Image via Finavia

APEX Insight: Finnair and Helsinki Airport operator Finavia are targeting Chinese travelers with a reality-TV-meets-game-show marketing campaign.

The Tom Hanks movie, The Terminal (partially inspired by the real life story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri) involved Hanks playing an Eastern European visitor trapped in New York’s JFK Airport.  

Now Helsinki Airport operator Finavia, along with Finnair, has taken this idea one stage further by actually recruiting someone to live at the airport. Specifically, Chinese TV personality Ryan Zhu just completed a 30 day stint where he took up residence in the non Schengen area of HEL. Ryan’s mission was to find out whether Helsinki Airport really is “the best airport in the world.”

The task that the airport gave Zhu was as follows: Return to Beijing at any time he likes. Or live (in a small wooden cabin) at the airport and complete a series of daily challenges.  If he completes them, he wins a trip to Lapland.


Ryan’s room in HEL. Image via Finnavia

For example, on the first day he had to find his cabin within fifteen minutes, day two involved buying five items within 30 minutes, while on day nineteen he actually got to leave the airport to spend eight hours in Helsinki.  

All challenges have been hosted on a #LifeinHel website, in the form of a series of short videos.  The website also includes information about Ryan, the airport itself, and it pulls in social media and media coverage about the campaign worldwide.

Ryan Zhu, a Chinese actor, was chosen clearly to illustrate the benefits of Helsinki airport as a ‘bridge’ between the Far East / China and the West.  In fact, Finnair has been actively targeting the Asian market over the past few years, a topic that is covered in SimpliFlying CEO, Shanshank Nigam’s book SOAR.

As a result, given that social networks such as Facebook and Instagram remain off-limits to most mainland Chinese social media users, the LifeinHel website also links back to Chinese networks such as Sina Weibo.

Indeed, in the videos Ryan (largely) speaks in his native Mandarin (though he learns a number of Finnish phrases) while the films have little China-friendly touches such as Chinese staff helping him when he goes shopping.

This is a really innovative campaign that has been called “reality TV meets game show.”  Media coverage about the stunt has appeared in China, Finland, Western Europe and North America.

Meanwhile there has been extensive social media exposure. According to Tweetreach, the #LifeinHel hashtag had 800k+ impressions on Twitter in (at the time of writing) in the past week alone.

#LifeinHel follows a 2016 campaign staged by Finnair and Finavia called #MatchMadeinHel, where the runway was turned into a fashion catwalk.

Key Takeaways

This is a great campaign for a number of different reasons.  Using Ryan means it reaches both Chinese (because of his profile) and Western (because of the challenges) audiences.  

As they are all filmed, the tasks form 30 unique and individual pieces of content that can all be reused on social media and in PR. That content then highlights all the different benefits of flying from Helsinki.  

Finally when Ryan wins his Lapland trip, Finnair and Finavia will in effect have another mini campaign, as it will promote the idea of flying through HEL and having a short 48 hour stopover.  

This case study was featured in SimpliFlying’s Airline Marketing Benchmark Report, which showcases the top airline branding strategies each month. Find out more here.