Virgin Mobile gets naked

By Published on .

Considering the $1.5 billion cellphone marketing blitz expected through the end of the year, Virgin Mobile USA's $15 million ad campaign is modest.

Well, perhaps not.

Virgin's effort showcases a half-dozen actors individually describing the vulnerability one feels in making a gift choice. As they make their presentations, their only "clothing" is a small box containing the Virgin Mobile cell phone.

The campaign, from Publicis Groupe's Fallon, New York, shot by director Tony Kaye, and themed "The gift with nothing to hide," is intended to underscore the simplicity of Virgin Mobile service. While other wireless carriers have binding contracts, a Byzantine schedule of free and costly minutes, Virgin Mobile's pre-paid service is "honest and simple," said Howard Handler, chief marketing officer, Virgin Mobile USA.

Virgin, known for the attention-getting tactics of its various brands and its leader, Richard Branson, said it was trying to stand out with the effort, which Mr. Handler called "full frontal wireless." It allows Virgin Mobile to "strike at the heart of who we are," he said, noting that Virgin Mobile always is "cheeky and irreverent and playful and fun."

youth market

Sold in stores such as Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Circuit City at prices ranging from $59 to $139, Virgin Mobile allows consumers to check their phones to see how much time is left on the prepaid plan and then purchase more air time. Competitors abound for the targeted 14- to 24-year-old youth market, including family plans from carriers such as Verizon Wireless to Boost Mobile and Leap Wireless' Cricket. Mr. Handler said Virgin Mobile's "pay as you go" service offers young people the cellphone equivalent of a key to their own car, vs. rival cellphone family plans that are the equivalent of Dad handing over the family car keys. "The young market is where all the upside is."

Spots will run on national cable channels such as Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN, Viacom's MTV, Comedy Central and Spike TV, as well as network programs such as NBC's "Saturday Night Live." Outdoor will run in 10 markets, with radio in 33 markets as well as wild postings.

Overall media spending for Virgin Mobile is $50 million, Mr. Handler said.

In its most recent announcement in March, Virgin Mobile said it had 500,000 phones in circulation. Executives at the Zelos Group estimate up to 15 million consumers use prepaid mobile cellphone services in the U.S.

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