Virgin Atlantic and Delta Team on 'Prodigal Brother' Holiday Campaign

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Virgin Atlantic and Delta bring charming cheek to the schmaltz-filled holiday advertising season with a short film, their biggest push yet to promote their strategic partnership. Created out of Figliulo & Partners and directed by Anonymous Content's Tim Godsall, it tells the story of a wayward man named Jacob who turns up unexpectedly at his brother's home for Christmas.

Delta acquired a 49 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic in 2013, opening the door to an expanded network for both airlines and letting customers take advantage of both flyers' services, from lounge offerings to miles redemption.

Delta's passenger revenue in the first three quaters rose to $26.3 billion from $25.8 billion in the period a year earlier, although operating income declined to $4.9 billion from $5.9 billion. After generating strong profits in 2016, Virgin Atlantic said earlier this year that it expects its first annual loss in 2017.

Their holiday campaign opens with all the conceits of your typical heartwarming fare: A jazzy rendition of "Deck the Halls" plays as a plane touches down, and a title card reading "The Prodigal Brother" appears, in typeface seemingly straight out of a Woody Allen movie.

But things quickly take a strange turn. Jacob walks in, to the shock of his brother and sister-in-law, bearing for his niece and nephews what he claims to be "The greatest gift in the entire world"—three identical red scarves. The scarves have a magical heritage, he explains, tied to three other children who long ago crashed in the Andes mountains and were saved by a sherpa who cut his own red scarf in three and stuffed the kids into a disemboweled yak for warmth.

Ultimately, Jacob cleverly twists the story into an apology: He's a jerk, only really there because his girlfriend dumped him, but taking the opportunity to say sorry for ruining his brother's wedding. The endline reads, "Together, we make togetherness."

"We wanted to convey to our shared customers the benefits of flying with Virgin and Delta," explains Virgin Atlantic Chief Marketing Officer Claire Cronin. "We're super proud of our shared commitment to our partners and we asked Figliulo & Partners to come up with a vehicle to help convey that. The thing that came out loud and clear, was that we're really about connecting with family and friends over the holiday period. They wanted to show our two brands bring people together."

Figliulo & Partners Chief Creative Officer Scott Vitrone credits retailer John Lewis, whose sweet holiday ads are eagerly awaited by consumers each year, with inspiring the work ... in a way.

"They've created a genre and you see a lot of brands trying to mimic that style," Vitrone says. "We set out to break that mold. We wanted to deliver everything, the feeling of Christmas and togetherness, but we also wanted to have a bit of real, human emotion. But we were really conscious of not trying to pander—do faux emotional stuff. We really tried hard to make it a real, raw story with a flawed character we could lean into."

Even tinged with a bit of darkness, the idea played well with both brands. "We're not schmaltzy and never have been," says Cronin. "We do things with a playful twinkle in the eye. It's a heartwarming reunion and features characters people could identify with, versus the very romanticized ads you get this time of the year."

"The Delta and Virgin Atlantic brands are unique to one another, but what we've found is that our passion for people and service is the core of who we are, and our brands are just different expressions of that same commitment," says Jacob Abel, Delta general manager, joint venture marketing strategy and communications." By building a storyline that had a few quirks and tangents, anchored by our ability to bring together customers, we believe we found a heartwarming story that also connects with both brands."

According to V.A.'s Cronin, the film is "the first step of a much broader strategy about doing more for our customers than any other alliances combined."

The film will run through December 25 in both the U.S. and U.K. on Delta and Virgin Atlantic social channels and on on-demand video in the U.K.

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