Virgin Atlantic campaign - From brief to browser

How did a spark of an idea to promote Virgin Atlantic's Flight Tracker iPhone app result in a digital campaign with staying power?

Comedy Actor Alex MacQueen was cast in the campaign
Comedy Actor Alex MacQueen was cast in the campaign

Brand: Virgin Atlantic
Agency: LBi


Virgin Atlantic wanted to produce a film demonstrating the new version of its Flight Tracker iPhone app, which allows customers to track the exact whereabouts of any plane in the Virgin Atlantic fleet in real time. Users can also use the mobile service to watch videos of flight destinations, access schedule information from a live feed and check-in remotely. To raise awareness of the service, Virgin Atlantic approached LBi to devise a promotional strategy that used branded content to engage consumers more deeply than is possible with paid-for advertising.


Given the irreverent nature of the Virgin Atlantic brand - as demonstrated in its current TV ad campaign parodying the opening sequences of James Bond films - LBi decided that humour should provide the basis for a branded Flight Tracker film.

In order to achieve the widest possible reach, the online video needed to appeal to mainstream consumers who were not tech-savvy enough to be aware of what services are available via iPhone apps.

Once the basic concept had been agreed, the LBi creative team devised a series of intentionally provocative ideas to pitch to Virgin Atlantic's marketing department.

One featured the 'early adopter' in a flock of geese using the Flight Tracker app to avoid an unfortunate encounter with the engines of a Virgin 747. However, after careful consideration, Virgin Atlantic decided that flight safety was too serious a topic to be the subject of comedic content.

Ultimately, the carrier chose the theme of 'love is in the air' as the preferred creative route - a story centring on a single man, Terry, who is so besotted with a plane named Rose that he uses the Flight Tracker app to follow 'her' around the world.


Once Virgin Atlantic's marketing department had selected 'love is in the air' as the theme for the promotional film, LBi set about identifying a production partner that could deliver the script, cast and performance that the successful execution of the idea demanded.

LBi's director of branded content, Graham Hodge, had previously worked with those involved with specialist comedy production outfit Hoot Comedy, and he approached them with the idea. They proposed actor Alex MacQueen from Channel 4's The Inbetweeners and the BBC's The Thick Of It to star in the video, and he was subsequently cast as Terry.

After a number of different locations were considered, the shoot took place in a block of flats in London's Clapham South, which is situated directly beneath the Heathrow flight path. To add authenticity to the video, LBi used memorabilia collected by Virgin Atlantic over the past 25 years to create Terry's shrine to Rose.

Once filming was complete and Virgin Atlantic had given the project final approval, LBi set about putting the finishing touches to the film, which ended up being one of the first projects to come out of the agency's recently launched branded content division.

Hodge says the campaign aimed to enhance Virgin Atlantic's digital offering with content that people will continue to return to. "We were keen to turn the humble app demo movie on its head and create something that was genuinely funny and fresh," he adds.

Media plan

Virgin Atlantic has initially targeted Flight Tracker and the promotional film at existing customers, and so has chosen to focus on virgin-atlantic.com and its social media channels to launch the app.


The film soft-launched at the end of last year, but with 2011 now well under way and the holiday booking season in full swing, the Flight Tracker video will be seeded on a range of third-party channels such as travel blogs and forums, and tourism and comedy sites.

The goal is to boost downloads of the Flight Tracker app and increase long-term engagement with the Virgin Atlantic brand. The launch of the app follows an increased investment in marketing by Virgin Atlantic, which is planning to double its spend this year to £10m. The airline recently suffered the worst financial losses in its 26-year history, but believes that boosting its marketing budget across a variety of channels, including digital, is key to engaging consumers and encouraging them to book flights with it.

The carrier is planning to unveil a major overhaul of its website later this year in an effort to ramp up its ecommerce revenue.