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.