The airline, which used film icon Austin Powers in a buzz-building effort this summer, launches an estimated $2 million campaign this week in Chicago, more than a month before it begins service between Sears Tower and the Tower.
The Chicago-London route is Virgin's first to Heathrow Airport from a U.S. city not on the East or West coasts, giving the airline a critical market for business travel and the chance to bring its hip image to the Midwest.
MULTIMEDIA EFFORT INCLUDES BLIMP
The ad campaign, to be announced Sept. 21 at an event for travel professionals, aims to raise general brand awareness while linking the Virgin name with its London destination. It will use spot TV, radio, print and outdoor, including a blimp that will fly over sports events.
Print begins this week with ads in the Chicago Tribune followed by the TV launch Oct. 6. Phrases such as "Cheerio'hare," merging the British salutation with the name of the Chicago airport, and "Chicago Virgin" will be used. That line plays off of the airline's pre-Powers effort early this year that used the phrase "Fly to London Virgin."
"We continue to associate the brand with the destination," said Michael Glavin, managing director at Virgin Atlantic's longtime U.S. agency, CMG Communications, New York, "because you think of where you're going before you think of how you're getting there."
Airline executives said the addition of a Chicago route is essential to attract more corporate customers and they believe the busy market might soon become Virgin's third most-popular in the U.S. behind New York and Los Angeles. The carrier is currently in seven U.S. markets.
"It's a business imperative to be in Chicago," said John Riordan, Virgin's Atlantic's VP-sales and marketing in the U.S.
Service launches Nov. 1 and the airline will offer several specials to drum up interest, including a $349 introductory round-trip fare that includes a $50 gift certificate to the Virgin Megastore in Chicago. Another offer is an automatic upgrade to premium economy class with the purchase of a full-price economy ticket. Called upper class on Virgin, first-class passengers receive limousine service on both sides of the Atlantic.
In most cities where there is both a Virgin Megastore and Virgin Airways, the airline has typically set up shop first. Chicago marks the first U.S. city where the music store preceded the airline. Though the two are separate companies, they sometimes do cross-promotions.
Both had tie-ins with Austin Powers, the character in the spoof of James Bond, this summer. For the airline, research shows its largely outdoor campaign succeeded in raising brand awareness, Mr. Glavin said, while its sex appeal with phrases such as "There's only one virgin on this billboard, baby!" did not erode Virgin's respect level among business travelers.
ENTERING CROWDED MARKETS
Only four airlines will now fly between London and Chicago -- American Airlines, United Airlines, British Airways and Virgin. American and United have hubs in Chicago, but Virgin has moved into crowded markets at almost every juncture since 1984.
"Virgin has a history of going into markets and carving out their share," said Bill Varner, senior director of marketing for consultancy Avitas. "When they started out, they had to go up against British Airways. By offering service with a message, which is every man can be a king, they were able to do battle and