Virgin Media takes 'unlimiting' direction with darkly comic campaign

First work by Adam & Eve/DDB represents creative shift for brand.


Virgin Media has unveiled a creative platform and campaign that embodies the "unlimiting" power of its services while returning the brand to its mischievous roots.

This is the first work for Virgin Media since it appointed Adam & Eve/DDB to its advertising account in March, replacing Bartle Bogle Hegarty London.

The "Unlimiting" platform represents a major step change for the brand as it expands from talking about speed – as demonstrated by champion sprinter Usain Bolt, the star of its previous ads – to promoting its new "Ultimate Oomph" package of TV, broadband, mobile and landline services.

"We want to become the most irresistible brand in telco," Cilesta Van Doorn, director of brand and marketing at Virgin Media, told Campaign. "We need to stand out in the crowd and own our ‘Virginness’ way more than we have ever owned it."

A&E/DDB created a TV ad that will premiere on Friday (14 June) during Gogglebox on Channel 4. The "You can do anything" campaign will run for three months and also span out-of-home, video-on-demand, press, radio, online and social media.

It tells the story of an average dad who takes Virgin Media’s "I can do anything" promise to heart and follows it to a darkly comic end. His new-found sense of freedom transports him to an imaginary world and allows him to do everything from completing a simple crossword puzzle and making new friends to thinking he can fly – although it turns out some beliefs have their limits.

The uptempo soundtrack is a remix of Oh Yeah by Yello, which is best known for featuring in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The ad mixes live action and animation, and features a colourful, high-definition 3D swirl crafted by visual artists Colors And The Kids.

It was written by Simon Vicars, art directed by Andre Sallowicz and Nat Potter, and directed by Ian Pons Jewell through Academy. Manning Gottlieb OMD is the media agency.

Running throughout the work is a sense of irreverent humour that draws on Virgin’s brand heritage of being "rebellious but also a bit cheeky", Van Doorn said – a tone of voice that the brand plans to build on in future communications. The climactic scene sees the dad drive his motorhome off a cliff and end up at a funeral – a plot twist that is "absolutely risky", she said.

"That’s the part we have to play in. We’re breaking boundaries to have a little fun, in a respectful and humorous way," Van Doorn continued. "You will have haters and lovers. But we want to become the most irresistible brand, not the most loved brand."

The power of ‘Unlimiting’

"Unlimiting" is the idea that cinched A&E/DDB’s win when it competed for Virgin Media’s business earlier this year. The ad's script is the same one that the agency presented to Virgin Media during the pitch.

The word gives the brand an "ownable, distinctive line" that stands apart from other telecoms providers’ messages about unlimited mobile data, Van Doorn said: "We need to have something that only we can talk about."

Van Doorn sees endless possibilities for the line in the brand’s marketing. Throughout the campaign, the "-ing" from "unlimiting" will be used to create new verbs from everyday language and pop culture – imagine words such as "familying", "adulting" or "girlfriending".

"I believe ‘unlimiting’ will become a household phrase that people will start talking about and maybe even in a couple of years people will think: is it a word?" Van Doorn said. "Our campaign needs to be so recognisable that whenever you’re on the Tube or just walking around or hear the TV, you immediately recognise this is the new Virgin Media."

Goodbye (for now), Usain Bolt

So what will happen to Bolt, Virgin Media’s long-time brand ambassador? Previous advertising has followed the Olympic champion through scenarios including suiting up as a superhero and competing against a regular man called "Blot" in physical challenges.

"Usain Bolt has done an amazing job for us. He embodied everything to do with the fastest speed that we want to be associated with," Van Doorn said.

Bolt still has a contract with the brand and will continue to be involved in its marketing, but now Virgin Media wants to be known for more than just speed.

The new campaign includes creative twists such as Channel 4’s ident blocks merging directly into the opening of the ad when it debuts on Friday. Additional footage from the spot will air as part of a "blipvert" ad break during The Voice Kids final, Love Island and Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions. The outdoor executions use data to closely target various audiences.

But Van Doorn has even bigger ambitions for the brand and wants it to venture beyond traditional advertising. This might include "creating a number-one hit" or innovating within social media, she added.

"We need to become part of pop culture again," she said. "We’re starting a new journey."

Become a member of Campaign from just £77 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an alert now

Partner content