Close-Up: Why the new Virgin ad made Mark Roalfe sweat

There were lots of nerves but little 'blue-sky' thinking as RKCR worked on the 'still red hot' follow-up, its chairman admits.

The difficult second album. Mike Oldfield stumbled after Tubular Bells. Nirvana never hit the heights of Nevermind. And Terence Trent D'Arby disappeared off the face of the earth. So when Virgin came in asking for a follow-up to the "still red hot" ad, we were a little nervous.

Before I go into the birth of the second ad, here's a quick potted history of the first. In October 2008, Virgin Atlantic asked for a logo for its 25th anniversary. We said: "Why not make it a year-long promotion and launch it with a TV ad?" The multi-talented Pip Bishop and Chris Hodgkiss wrote an ad in four days, we presented it to our clients Breda Bubear and Paul Dickinson: they loved it. Traktor got the script, loved it and shot it. It was on-air by 28 December. The punters loved it. Virgin's bookings rose despite the recession. And Richard Branson wrote a note to say it was the best Virgin ad ever. So no pressure, then.

Just to make things a bit hairier, the new ad was to be Virgin Atlantic's first truly global ad campaign. Pip and Chris locked themselves away with the brief and we waited for white smoke. Finally, I got a call from Pip saying they'd got a script. The script was a completely over-the-top epic product walkthrough. We chatted about giving it the right Virgin populist tone and puncturing the ending. One scene, however, troubled me - the cloud scene where a female cabin crew pulls a cloud over a passenger. "It could go a bit Blue Peter," I worried. "I've never seen clouds done well," I said. Pip and Chris looked me firmly in the eye and told me not to worry. A few days later, the script was shown to Breda and she thought it was as exciting as we did. Over the next few weeks, she sold the idea throughout Virgin. Without her tenacity, passion and instinct, this ad would never have happened.

So ... the idea was fully sold, Traktor had seen the script and really wanted to shoot it - what could possibly go wrong? Then a small Icelandic volcano blew up and closed all the country's airports for a week. When the dust settled, literally, Virgin took a brave decision and went ahead with the production.

Ole and Pontus from Traktor came over for the first of many pre-, pre-, production meetings. From the off, they had a clear view of how they wanted the whole ad to have a sense of glamour and fun that only Virgin could get away with. At the end of the meeting, I pulled Ole and Pontus aside and explained my worries about "the cloud scene". They looked me squarely in the eye and told me not to worry.

A six-day shoot at Pinewood was booked for June. The first time I dropped by, I found Pip and Chris huddled around the monitors, surrounded by a beautiful set with girls pulling suitcases. The next time, it was trampolinists flying through camera in slow motion. Then a line of businessmen wearing bizarre see-through suits. Finally, one day I came down to find what I can only describe as a load of cotton wool wrapped around some chicken wire with a rather beautiful member of the cabin crew standing next to it. I pulled Pip, Chris, Pontus and Ole aside and once again voiced my worries about "the cloud scene". They all looked me squarely in the eye and told me not to worry. I left worried. The whole ad then disappeared down to the magic fairies at The Moving Picture Company.

During this process, one other defining thing happened. Muse's cover of Feeling Good had been put on an early mood film. We'd spent months trying to beat it, knowing that Muse were not renowned for selling their stuff. We played Paul Dickinson at Virgin all the different versions. He said it wasn't up for discussion - it had to be Muse and we had to go away and negotiate it for a sensible price.

After many more weeks and visits to MPC (and hours negotiating with Muse), the film was finally finished. I couldn't be more proud of it. I think it's a great piece of work, with a sense of fun, glamour and audacity that only Virgin can have. Most of all, I hope "this second album" will do as well for Virgin's business as the last one did. And Pip, Chris, Ole and Pontus ... you were right about the clouds, it's my favourite scene.

Mark Roalfe is the chairman of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R.


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