Virgin's ads lack chastity

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John Riordan, VP-sales and marketing for Virgin Atlantic Airways, has one overriding standard for ads he greenlights: "If there's any campaign where you can put another airline logo on it and it would actually be a valid campaign, that's out automatically. When one of the campaigns can only be done by Virgin, then we know we're onto a winner."

Thus Virgin's national magazine effort-set to break in February issues-features one model in sexy thigh-high boots and another described by Mr. Riordan as having "an Elizabeth Hurley kind of dirty look." With its six new ads, Mr. Riordan and agency CMG Communications, New York, feel they've reached their desired mark of distinction.

The ads tout Virgin's revamped business-class service and try to build on the sex appeal and fun that the airline has ridden to an enviable niche in the competitive market between North America and London, the busiest long-haul market in the world. Virgin serves nine U.S. markets.

Seeking to give the campaign a sleek look where readers at first glance might believe ads were for a chic spa or hip nightspot, Virgin and CMG turned to the fashion photography team known as Guzman-which did the recent Evian campaign. "If you can make a fashion statement out of water, it should be easy to do with an airline that offers massages," said CMG Managing Director-Partner Michael Glavin.

NOT-SO-SUBTLE MESSAGES

On-board massages are one of the benefits of the business-class service, known as Upper Class, plugged in the ads. In a subtle nod to the industry problem of air rage, the massage ad reads: "Never hear of anyone cursing out the on-board masseuse now, do you?"

Another execution shows a young man shining the sexy boots of a model, which touts the airport lounges Virgin offers prior to takeoff. "Now you can take care of the 3 S's right at the airport," the copy reads. "Ya' know, shower, shave and shoeshine."

The typical business-class passenger looks quite different from the youthful glitterati in the new campaign, but Virgin is counting on a lust for youth to make the ads appealing to travelers aged 35 to 54. "One of the ways to [make ads stand out] is to stay away from putting your exact core audience in the pictures," said Vinny Tulley, CMG's creative director-partner.

The campaign marks Virgin's return to magazines after a three-plus year hiatus. The media buy covers a range of titles from American Lawyer to Wine Spectator.

In 1999, Virgin spent $12.5 million in measured media, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

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