Work debrief - Brands play part in Virgin Media's buffer experience

Virgin Media wanted to reinforce its broadband offer. Its media agency worked on buffering TV ads from trusted brands.

Virgin Media campaign wiht Usain Bolt
Virgin Media campaign wiht Usain Bolt

As our appetite for online content continues to grow, the broadband provider with the best infrastructure will win out. With the widest and most established fibre-optic network, Virgin Media is best-placed to help consumers enjoy all the content they want online.

But Virgin isn't alone. BT Infinity is laying cable and gaining awareness fast and Sky will launch its fibre product later this year.

The Brief

Virgin Media is the fastest broadband provider in the UK. But as other brands invest in fibre-optic technology, Virgin wanted to make sure it maintained its leading position, so it took the big decision to invest more than £110 million to double the speed of more than four million of its broadband customers in a project that would take around 18 months.

Our brief was to inform Virgin Media customers and prospects of this improvement and provide clear communication signposting so people could find out when their house would be upgraded. It goes without saying that we had to deliver this with Virgin aplomb - entertaining, fun and innovative.

This campaign would also launch the new brand line: "Keep up."

The Idea

The Usain Bolt campaign from DDB UK was making progress in the autumn of 2011. Our media idea was inspired by DDB's second script, "bye bye buffering".

We know technology promises can be hard to land as consumers don't always have the right context and people have simply put up with online buffering for years - it's just part of the digital experience. To get over this inertia and disrupt buffering acceptance, we wanted to contextually land the campaign. We began by asking ourselves: "What would buffering look like where you least expect it?"

From here, our idea was to take TV content and make it buffer. We couldn't use TV programmes (although it didn't stop us asking), so we turned our attention to other brand TV ads with the simple idea that Virgin would pay for the airtime if we could take over their ad, make it buffer and then explain that "you wouldn't put up with this on TV, so why put up with it online?"

The brave brands that have come in to help us execute this idea are Yeo Valley, Magners and Citroen, with others being negotiated now.

The Logistics

This is where the real work happened, as there were very few precedents, yet so many stakeholders. From the first presentation of the idea to the first ad, Yeo Valley's "The Churned", which aired during the Brit Awards last week, the campaign took four months to execute.

By far the hardest bit of the campaign was finding the brands to take part. It was a difficult sell. We wanted brands to hand over their precious TV assets for us to buffer, voice over and replace the end-frame. And not any old brands, either. We wanted good brands to associate with and good content to buffer. This took a lot of time - presentations, storyboards, rough edits and conversations - as most brands understandably had many questions and needed to align with several internal and external stakeholders. This was made possible through our contacts at OMD UK (Citroen), The Red Brick Road (Magners) and Bartle Bogle Hegarty (Yeo Valley). At the time of writing, other brands are also being lined up.

Finally, once the edits were through Clearcast, we needed - at short notice - to secure the highest-profile TV environments we could and ensure the break was clash-free of broadband.


It's early days and we've only aired one Yeo Valley spot. That said, the spot we have aired has resulted in significant positive social media commentary for Virgin Media, not to mention helping Yeo Valley to be the number-one worldwide trending topic on Twitter.

Andrew Stephens is the joint managing director at Fifty6.

Clients: Jeff Dodds, executive director, brand and marketing
communications; Richard Larcombe, advertising director; Josh Virgona,
senior campaign manager; Julian Hawkins, senior media manager, Virgin
TV planning director: Paul Gayfer, Fifty6
TV manager: Richard Haywood, Fifty6 Business director Emma Norris,
TV account director: Suzy Casey, Fifty6
Creative agencies: DDB UK (original Bolt work), Bartle Bogle Hegarty
(buffering edits)
Creatives: Alex Ball, Nadine Akle
Creative director: Ashidiq Ghazali
Planner: Tim Jones
Producer: Victoria Baldacchino
Strategic business lead: Helen James
Team manager: Lucy Scott
Sound engineer: Wave Studios