ABU DHABI // Etihad’s new chief executive said he hoped for continued collaboration between the UAE’s national airline and Nicole Kidman as its new 360-degree virtual reality advertisement featuring the Oscar winner garnered hundreds of thousands of views.
Peter Baumgartner, who took over in a reshuffle earlier this month, led a live Facebook discussion at Etihad’s Abu Dhabi headquarters on Sunday fielding questions from the public about the making of the five-minute feature, Reimagine, which gives viewers a virtual reality experience aboard the Airbus A380. Kidman could not attend the event because of overseas filming commitments, he said.
Using virtual reality was a “logical” next step for the airline, Mr Baumgartner said.
“If we had just done a second TV commercial with Nicole – with the mindset that it worked the first time – it wouldn’t have been in line with Etihad,” he said.
This is the first time a Hollywood actor has starred in a virtual reality movie, Mr Baumgartner said.
“Nicole understood very consciously that ‘I will be the first one in Hollywood among my peers who does a cutting-edge virtual reality piece of film,’ and she loved that,” said the Swiss national, who has been with the company since 2005.
“That was so obvious during filming. But it was a new challenge for everyone. She was being told ‘Nicole you cannot do that – you cannot stretch your legs in this way because there is a laser and you will go through the wall in 3-D virtual reality’.”
Kidman, said Mr Baumgartner, remained a “perfect fit” for the airline. “It is the second project we have done with her and she is a spokesperson for our brand for the future,” he said. “So she is around, she stays with us, she is committed to tell that Etihad story around the world.”
Mr Baumgartner said a third ad campaign with Kidman, who was named as the face of the brand last year, “was possible”.
Mr Baumgartner said Kidman and her husband, country singer Keith Urban, had been travelling to Abu Dhabi with the airline long before becoming Etihad’s global ambassador, and had visited the emirate many times since.
“They have been to Qasr Al Sarab and they love Saadiyat,” he said. “They love it here in Abu Dhabi.”
Hundreds of Etihad employers halted their workday and gathered in the atrium of Etihad Airways headquarters as the red-carpet event was broadcast live on the airline’s Facebook page and app.
Aside from Mr Baumgartner, members of the public got the chance to quiz Shane O’Hare, Etihad’s senior vice president of marketing, Malcolm Poynton, chief creative officer at Cheil Worldwide – the marketing company behind the film – and Coen Doolard, business director at MediaMonks, the digital production company that produced the Reimagine feature.
The advertisement can be viewed at vr.etihad.com.