Virgin Mobile takes 'high ground'

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Virgin Mobile USA is shifting its advertising tactic from nudity to morality.

The cellphone carrier went into last winter's wireless-number-portability wars with a series of commercials tagged "The gift with nothing to hide." It showed actors wearing only a cellphone box and discussing how vulnerable one is when giving a gift. Now, however, the company is turning from the unclothed to men of the cloth as part of its pitch.

The $10 million campaign, breaking March 24, features actors-dressed this time-talking with a Buddhist monk, a rabbi, a pastor and a politician. In each spot, a young person seeks advice about morality. In "Pastor," for example, a girl in church asks the pastor if a company is "good" by being upfront with its prices and not adding unexpected charges. The pastor agrees, but then demurs when asked, "Where would the other companies go?"

Spots are tagged, "Pay as you go. Live without a plan." Visuals at the end of each show angel-like cellphones with wings.

Howard Handler, chief marketing officer, Virgin Mobile USA, said the nudity campaign worked well over the holiday season, with Virgin Mobile picking up 750,000 customers since the onset of wireless number portability in November and moving into the top 10 of wireless carriers.

The shift comes at a time when the broadcast industry and advertisers are under increasing scrutiny over the morality of sex and violence in the media. It also comes at a time when Christian and other religious youth movements are gaining momentum.

sinner to saint

"In some ways, we've gone from sinners to saints," said Ari Merkin, executive creative director at Publicis Groupe's Fallon, New York, Virgin Mobile's agency.

The campaign is slated to run on Viacom's MTV channels and cable networks through the "MTV Movie Awards" in June. Other executions include print, cinema, radio and out of home in 14 markets.

Earlier this month, Virgin Mobile reported it had 1.75 million customers, making it one of the top 10 U.S. cell providers. Virgin Mobile claims 8% of the $80 million to $100 million market for ring tones in the U.S.

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