Method to the Madness

This piece was first published in Marketing Weekender Issue 302 as the Cover Story

Emirates’ ad featuring a woman standing on the top of the Burj Khalifa is so unbelievable, the fake mills are in overdrive.

“I almost had a heart attack,” was one online comment.

“A chopper could whisk her out of the sky.”

Emirates has a tradition of doing live stunts, but this one surely beats them all.

Probably one of the highest ads ever filmed, while being connected to earth, millions cast doubt on its authenticity, claiming the company used a green screen or special effects for the video.

A single drone, probably from an adjacent roof top, was used to capture the footage in a continuous take, to film the complete sequence.

But the terrifying stunt was real. The model is UK stuntwoman is Nicole Smith-Ludvik, a trained para jumper and professional skydiving instructor who calls herself a “world traveler, skydiver, yoga instructor, hiker and adventurer”.

At 828 meters above the ground, the Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building. On top of the world, Nicole had a reduced circumference space of only 1.2 meters to pull off the stunt. She was attached to a pole as well as two other different points directly to the pinnacle, through a hidden harness under the Emirates uniform.


Those involved with the filming, which began at sunrise, climbed for more than an hour and 15 minutes from level 160 of the Burj Khalifa. The team was at the top of the building for about five hours. Their ascent to the pinnacle began before the sun appeared, from Level 160 of the Burj Khalifa and there are several tiers and ladders inside a tube that need to be scaled to reach the top.

Emirates says the ad is the result of rigorous planning, training, testing, and a strict safety protocol. They have also released behind-the-scenes footage showing how this seemingly insane feat was made possible.

A seasoned CGI expert shared some of his observations with us….


“There is a slight speed up of the shot, you see her scarf move slower then faster. The shot has been stabilized to keep her and the building center frame. It would seem the shot was designed for spectacle, and difficult to reproduce using virtual sets but not impossible. The image resolution changes as the shot pulls out. So they have post zoomed in for framing at the beginning then post zoomed out during the shot.”

From a marketing perspective, there is probably more mileage in how the ad was done than the ad itself.

The final question I ask myself, “Does it matter that in the future, it is revealed that the whole stunt was fake?”


Concept & Direction: Emirates’ in-house Brand Team

Produced by: Prime Productions AMG Dubai

Logistics: TECS Event Services

Helicopter & Drone: Choppershoot

Those who have been to the top:


Regular extreme-stunts actor Tom Cruise scaled the Burj Khalifa in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol 10 years ago.


In 2013, the Crown Prince of Dubai HH Sheikh Hamdan also climbed up to the top and waved The UAE flag when his country was chosen to host the 2020 World Expo. An accomplished horseman, scuba diver and skydiver, he goes by the name ‘Fazza’ on social media.

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