HBO has teamed up with Richard Branson's airline to promote the fifth season of its hit comedy "Entourage," premiering Sept. 7. The premium cable network sponsored the airline's inaugural flight from New York's JFK airport to McCarran International in Las Vegas, which left this afternoon. The partnership was engineered by Civic Entertainment Group (an agency that earlier took to the sky via a helium-balloon ride for the Central Park Conservatory).
Passengers aboard the maiden voyage to Vegas will get an exclusive peek at the show's season premiere, and first-class or "'Entourage' class" members will receive special amenities such as Dom Perignon champagne. All Virgin America customers will be able to watch four free episodes from the series' fourth season during the month of September.
At a time when airlines are charging for everything from water to checked luggage, Porter Gale, the airline's VP-marketing, said Virgin wants to offer its customers special features to enhance their experience, including premium content from partners such as HBO. "We're trying to change the category and do different things to shake it up," she said.
Chris Spadaccini, HBO's VP-advertising, said: "We see this as a partnership between two very like-minded brands. Virgin America brand appeals to a very savvy, sophisticated audience and embodies the hip, aspirational lifestyle we portray through 'Entourage.'"
In a press conference held just before the "Entourage"-branded plane took off for Vegas, Mr. Branson elaborated on how his year-old American airline is faring in one of the troubled economy's most troubled industries. Virgin serves seven U.S. cities, with 80 flights a day, and was founded with a major commitment to going green. Mr. Branson said 100% of the company's revenue will go toward developing clean fuels for its planes, a project he estimated will reach $3 billion in the next decade.
"Obviously it's been tough, but Virgin America will survive and thrive," Mr. Branson said, adding: "Hopefully we'll be using our own fuels so it won't cost us anything. ... Everyone knows what our profits are going toward."
"Entourage" star Adrian Grenier shares Sir Richard's green values. "Otherwise I wouldn't be here," he said. The actor is a longtime environmental activist and has a side gig as the host of "Alter Eco" on Discovery's recently launched Planet Green network.
More marketing stunts
The Virgin partnership isn't the only marketing stunt HBO will pull out for the fifth installment of "Entourage." Mr. Spadaccini and his team recently created a viral microsite for "Viking Quest," a fictional series featuring Johnny Drama, played by "Entourage" co-star Kevin Dillon. The site features a video-game version of the fantasy series, which infuriates its star after he realizes he's receiving no compensation for its existence -- so much so that he goes on a rant in a YouTube video, encouraging fans to protest the fake game and equally fictional first-season DVD.
"He's furious because he's not making any money off of it; he's not seeing any royalties," Mr. Spadaccini said. "On top of that, he's really unhappy about how his likeness has been rendered. So we made this rant and uploaded it onto YouTube, to get fans to protest the DVD and Vikingquestgame.com."
Not unlike Paramount's surprise push for fake energy drink Booty Sweat, from its film "Tropic Thunder," the viral stunt goes to great lengths for a fictional product. But it's one that Mr. Spadaccini is confident will be the "Viking Quest" and "Entourage" "signature battle cry."