Virgin Atlantic: Introduction

In many ways it seems like ancient history, in others it feels like only yesterday. Virgin Atlantic's first flight in 1984 competed for media space with the Miners' Strike and John McEnroe's abuse of British tennis umpires. Frankie Goes To Hollywood were at number one in the charts with Two Tribes. As I'm in no position to talk about fashion, I'll draw a veil over what was being worn in 1984.

Yet despite all that, the idea of launching a new airline seems as fresh and relevant today as it did 20 years ago. As Simon Calder says in this supplement, we were committed to providing a better travel experience than our well-established, complacent rivals. We delivered innovation, quality and fun - and not just for the traditionally pampered business travellers, we also set new standards for economy passengers.

It's a bit nerve-racking asking industry experts what they think about 20 years of Virgin Atlantic - but I am delighted to see that most people have been very kind! Reading through the wonderfully written reviews in these pages, elegantly edited by Caroline Marshall, I'm struck by how effectively we have created a brand in Virgin Atlantic that builds on the core Virgin brand values but has established itself as the most influential and distinctive brand within the Virgin Group.

Reviewing 20 years of advertising, it's clear that we've worked with some of the best in the business, working at their best. Our ads have been iconic, distinctive, innovative (for instance, we pioneered the strip ad) and, above all, at their best they've been funny. Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R's "BA don't give a shiatsu" is still my personal favourite.

It has a dig at our traditional rival, yet also draws attention to our unique in-flight beauty-therapy service. No-one could make a complaint as it was a statement of fact. And, best of all, it never failed to bring a smile to the reader's face.

Right from the beginning, our limited marketing budget has meant we've used PR to get us more media exposure. Indeed, from our very first flight, we've used our inaugural services to new cities as a platform for photo opportunities, parties and press briefings. It's not too often that I feel sorry for BA but with its huge established network, it rarely gets the chance to launch services to new cities. I've often thought that if we didn't have inaugural flights we'd have to invent them and, having read Andrew Pierce's entertaining review of some of them, I can guarantee him a place on all of our future inaugurals to Sydney, Havana, Nassau ...

One of the innovations I'm most proud of is our "Change for Children" initiative. At the end of each flight, our crew collect loose change from our passengers, which is then donated to a range of children's charities.

Competitors such as BA quickly copied us and as a result tens of millions of pounds are now raised for charity each year.

No history of Virgin Atlantic would be complete without an account of our biggest challenge - BA's Dirty Tricks campaign. Martyn Gregory perfectly sums up the key events in that sorry saga, but as the years pass it's increasingly clear that the episode was a defining moment for Virgin Atlantic.

BA's crude attempts to put us out of business actually gave us more publicity and sympathy than we'd have otherwise received and we also emerged a stronger airline.

Advertising, PR and design have always been at the heart of how we've defined the airline, from our strip ads to our wonderful Start-designed aircraft livery. I really like the idea of Virgin Atlantic being the advertising industry's favourite airline and I promise you that in the next 20 years we'll do our level best to make sure we deserve your support.

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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).