Virgin Atlantic ads: harmless fun?

This question was the subject of heated debate on a recent night out with some girlfriends and I have to confess we didn’t reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Certainly Virgin Atlantic is no stranger to controversy. A previous advertising campaign, celebrating the airlines’ 25th anniversary, which also featured strikingly attractive air hostesses in vertiginous (and frankly completely impractical) heels attracted a number of complaints of sexism, although these were subsequently dismissed by the Advertising Standards Authority.

In the latest ad, produced by advertising agency RKCR, it is noticeable that not only do all the air hostesses look like models, but virtually all the passengers are male and spotting the two recessive females among them requires a considerable degree of concentration. The pilot, of course, is also male.

Does it matter? Frankly I’m not sure. The ad is beautifully produced and enjoyable to watch and, together with the strap-line “Your airline has either got it or it hasn’t”, it does a good job of positioning Virgin as a more glamorous alternative to its competitors. I have yet to speak to anyone in the target audience of senior male executives who doesn’t like it, even if they are sometimes cautious in admitting it.

The strength of the Virgin brand is that it is perceived as slightly anarchic. As the flagship company in the Branson empire, it is important that Virgin Atlantic reflects that positioning, which this ad clearly does.

So what of female business travellers such as myself? Are we offended by the campaign? Speaking personally, no. I watch it in the same spirit as I would a James Bond movie: tongue-in-cheek escapism from the reality of airport queues and delays. However, if my friends are anything to go by, not everyone feels the same way. At least one of our group was so annoyed by the sexy “trolly dolly” cliché portrayed that she said she would boycott the airline given the choice.

It doesn’t need me to point out that the number of senior women in business is increasing and these women not only travel but are often responsible for company travel policy which, in my experience, is by far the most important factor in determining which carrier I fly with.

If I was responsible for advertising at Virgin Atlantic I would therefore want to be sure that I was not alienating too many female executives – an audience that will only become larger and more influential over time. As every successful business person knows, jam today is good, but considerably less so if it is at the expense of jam tomorrow.

Watch the Virgin Atlantic ad below:

 

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