The 15-year-old airline, whose image is styled largely after its charismatic risk-taking chairman, Richard Branson, launches a multilayered campaign this week starring Austin Powers, a month before the character's new movie, "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," is released June 11.
The goal is to establish an early top-of-mind link between the airline and the film, and then play off the advertising dollars New Line Cinema will spend to promote the movie. Virgin also hopes to benefit from ad dollars spent by other corporate partners and the surge of free publicity the movie is expected to generate as it battles the new "Star Wars" prequel at the box office.
Starting May 11, drivers in Los Angeles, inline skaters in Miami and bus riders in New York will get a taste of Powers' peculiar charm -- or at least his image -- as he appears on billboards, buses and phone booths in those U.S. cities, plus the four others where Virgin flies: Boston, Orlando, San Francisco and Washington.
IT'S HIM, BABY
The ads, by CMG Communications, New York, an agency partly owned by Mr. Branson, feature Powers in a retro velour suit and use the spy's distinctive language. "There's only one virgin on this billboard, baby!" reads one, while another says, "Non-smoking flights. Unless I'm on board, baby!"
"It's about giving people some form of entertainment," said Sarah Buxton, Virgin's director of marketing. "It's the E-factor."
A third ad tinkers with the Virgin name, calling it Virgin Shaglantic, though that was deemed too risque for the Washington and Boston markets.
The $8 million to $10 million campaign, to be unveiled today at Los Angeles International Airport by Mr. Branson and actor Mike Myers, who plays Austin Powers, also will include a radio effort starting next week and newspaper ads for the movie's opening in June.
Virgin also is renaming one of its 747s "Austin Powered" and stamping the Powers character on the nose of the aircraft. It's also launching a temporary Web site (virginshaglantic.com) and sponsoring a Powers party at the Cannes International Film Festival this week.
PHILIPS AND HEINEKEN, TOO
Virgin, which also has a product placement deal in the film, isn't the only marketer making a Powers push.
Heineken USA has announced plans to run a TV spot in June tied to the flick, via agency Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York. Current Philips Electronics commercials by Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, include scenes from the first Powers movie "Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery."
Other tie-ins include a National Fluid Milk Processors Education Program print ad with Mr. Myers wearing a milk mustache, to break in the May 27 issue of Rolling Stone. The shot was by famed photographer Annie Leibowitz for Bozell Worldwide, New York. Elias Bros. Corp.'s Big Boy Restaurant & Market is planning a less than $1 million spot TV campaign, from Simons Michaelson Zieve, Troy, Mich., to break May 24. Another campaign is expected from Cadbury Schweppes' Mott's.
New Line Cinema is expected to launch its own $10 million to $12 million campaign for the movie this month via Trailer Park, Los Angeles.
"With any luck, somebody who sees the image of Austin Powers on television and other mediums will have their recall of Virgin Atlantic elevated," Ms. Buxton said.
Both Messrs. Branson and Myers were involved intimately with Virgin's Powers campaign. Mr. Myers signed off on all creative and even vetoed an ad that took a direct shot at British Airways, said Michael Glavin, CMG Communications' managing director.