BRITISH AIRWAYS CALLS NON-FLIERS 'GUTLESS COWARDS'

Virgin Airways Creates Ad To Exploit Competitor's Gaff

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Virgin Atlantic Airways has made it a habit to needle its bigger competitor British Airways. So when British Airway's CEO, Rod Eddington, referred to Hollywood celebrities as "gutless cowards" for being afraid to fly after the Sept. 11 tragedies, Virgin seized on the opportunity to curry favor with the deep-pocketed stars.

Virgin tomorrow launches print ads in entertainment trade papers Variety and The Hollywood Reporter that reprint Mr. Eddington's "gutless cowards" quote on the top of the page. A simple statement from Virgin's chairman, Richard Branson -- maybe the shortest quote ever attributed to the loquacious executive -- is just below: "Virgin Atlantic's phone number is 1-800-862-8621."

Crash delays ad
Virgin's longtime agency, CMG Communications, New York, had originally devised the cheeky ad to run Nov. 13, but held off for a week due to the Nov. 12 American Airlines crash. The idea came from art director Tim Shaw after reading Mr. Eddington's statements in a British newspaper.

Mr. Eddington apparently had been troubled by actor Bruce Willis' refusal to fly to London for a premiere, prompting the statement about the broader Hollywood community.

"They want everyone to see their movies and think how big and brave they are," he was quoted as saying. "But at the first sign of trouble they cower under their beds like gutless cowards."

Though Virgin's general image ads have been on hiatus since Sept. 11, Mr. Eddington's statements were too good to pass up, both in a humorous and serious manner, said CMG account supervisor Claire Gallagher.

'Very Virgin'
"It's very Virgin," she said. "But I think a comment like that deserves a response, and the response we give has some humor, but it's also supportive and in a time like this, that's important."

Virgin's vice president of marketing, John Riordan, told AdAge.com: "I'm sure the people cowering under their beds are the PR people at British Airways."

Calls to British Airways were not immediately returned.

Ms. Gallagher said she feels Mr. Eddington was off-base with his thoughts on celebrities not taking to the air en masse.

"I think a lot of celebrities are flying," she said. "I was watching the Emmys a few weeks ago and a lot of them were saying they had flown every week since 9/11."

Poking fun
Virgin has poked fun at British Airways for years. A British Airways campaign several years ago promised business-class travelers that if their trip was not their best ever, they could send in a letter and receive a free economy-class ticket. Virgin immediately responded with a print effort that had a letter ready to be cut out articulating why Virgin's service was better than British Airways' and requesting the free ticket.

Virgin flies twice a day from Los Angeles to London and counts on its business class, or what it calls its upper-class service, to help drive revenues.

British Airways, meanwhile, is seeking to attract celebrities and the like as its pricey Concorde service resumes from New York to London after a 2000 crash sidelined the supersonic plane.

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