Has Virgin Atlantic lost its sizzle?

Will Virgin Atlantic's new marketing approach, with the brand idea of "Flying in the face of ordinary", be enough to stop the business nose-diving and get it growing again? This is one hell of a challenge, with a forecast annual loss of £135 million. The new CEO has hit employees with an immediate pay freeze and cost-cutting plans, according to this article.

Well, based on reading an interview in Marketing with the marketing director,Simon Lloyd, I have some doubts about the new approach. Here's why.

1. Where's the sizzle?!

The last major Virgin Atlantic campaign was back in 2010/11, and in my view it was brilliant, as I posted here. The communication did a fantastic job of combining service "sausage" with emotional "sizzle". The whole thing was about the Virgin service experience, but presented in an extremely entertaining way. We have the good old on-board ice cream service…the Virgin hostesses… appetising on-board food. It's all there, but oozing with sex appeal. As the ad said, "Your airline's either got it, or it han't".

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In contrast, the latest communication lacks sex appeal and sizzle, even though this is what the brand is still trying to do according to the interview. The advert shows children with special gifts who end up using these skills to deliver great service for Virgin Atlantic. For me, it tries too hard to sell the people and product, rather than wrapping these features up in an entertaining story. 

2. Not building on memory structure

What a shame to not build more on the distinctive brand properties of the last campaign, especially the distinctively red dressed air hostesses, the Virgin Atlantic plane, the humour, the visual style and even the music. The new ad lasts 2 minutes, but its almost one and a half minutes till we see any of these brand properties appear. 

3. Focusing on "relationships", not distinctiveness

Simon is right when he says "The majority only fly with us once or twice a year." But I'm less sure about his solution to this issue, which is one faced by all brands: "I want to see how we can have much more of a relationship with customers before and after flying. We have the platform to do a lot of innovative stuff in the digital space. That's where we want the brand to live".

Uh oh.

Most people don't want relationships with brands. The real challenge is for Virgin Atlantic to create distinctive memory structure that helps the brand be top of mind when people are open to booking one of those flights Simon refers to. Trying to build relationships via digital media will focus too much on existing customers, wherehas the need is to have much broader reach of non and light customers.

In conclusion, "Flying in the face of ordinary" sounds like a good encapsulation of the Virgin Atlantic brand magic. I like the way the product is embedded in the idea. However, what the brand needs now is more distinctive, broad reach marketing with sausage and sizzle.