Since Virgin Atlantic launched, it’s held the imagination of the travelling public
It’s easy to look to things like innovative products and services, glamorous destinations and charismatic crew in bright red uniforms as the reasons for our success. But these are just part of our story. The personality and language of our brand plays a major role too, and to get a grasp on why, it’s useful to look at our past.
When we first started flying in 1984, the world was changing rapidly. In the UK, boom time had arrived, and a lot of people had more money to spend, with a greater desire to explore the world. The airline world hadn’t changed much at all and there wasn’t much choice, each country only had its state owned legacy airline. Expensive, with little emphasis on the customers’ needs, if you needed to get somewhere, you only had one airline to choose from. And what a dull, grey experience that was.
The time was right for someone to come in and shake things up. And did we ever.
With a parent brand that had owned a music label and record stores, we used marketing and public relations to our advantage. Using the same skill we’d developed promoting the likes of Culture Club and Simple Minds, we set out to inspire the public to fly with us. We flew to desirable destinations. We came up with innovative new products and services that would make the journey much more fun. We hired happy people with lively personalities to be our cabin crew. And we didn’t charge the earth.
We gave people a choice. A bright red, fun, friendly, fabulous choice that made travel attainable for everyone. Back then, our personality was cheeky and over the top. We were a tiny airline up against much bigger players. We needed to use quite radical language to get attention. We were the airline that loudly proclaimed ‘BA doesn’t give a shiatsu’ to promote our onboard massages. ‘Play with yourself’ was the way we chose to advertise the first ever seatback games. Not exactly subtle, but it got us noticed.
Richard Branson, our enthusiastic chairman, did anything to get attention for his businesses, including hot air ballooning, abseiling down Manhattan high rises or kissing Spice Girls. The more he got in the news for his adventures, the more Virgin Atlantic became renowned as the airline you flew if you wanted an adventure. His personality became our airline’s personality. ‘Screw it, let’s do it’ was Richard’s philosophy, and it served us well too as we grew, launching new destinations and taking on the airline world with our emphasis on exceptional service. As we arrived in new markets, his fame had often beaten us there, and it was easy for us to tap into his personality to establish ours.
Throughout the 80s and early 90s, we continued to lead the pack. Sleepy legacy carriers were too slow, or too entrenched in their ways to catch up with us. And even if they did, we’d dream up something even more innovative. As our business established itself in markets appealing to business travellers, then our personality slowly had to change too. The cheeky language we’d employed to encourage people to fly with us on their holidays was no longer quite as appropriate to talk to a business audience. That said, we still managed to promote our seatback screens as ‘nine inches of pure pleasure.’
But as much as people enjoyed flying with us, we didn’t fly everywhere, so they often had to fly with somebody else. Eventually, our success led to the rest of the airline world starting to match our products and service. So the differences started to become, well, not that different.
As well as that, alliances like oneworld® and the Star Alliance arrived on the scene, with legacy carriers linking together to offer their passengers access to an even greater network, seamless travel and reciprocal frequent flyer benefits. While we made some moves to link up with others, we felt our strength was in our independence.