Virgin America is throwing open the doors of its brand to some of its most influential frequent flyers in its latest digital marketing campaign, which launched September 5.
But you won't find any A-List Hollywood celebrities among the airline's marketing collaborators. Instead, the airline and its agency, Eleven, picked digital-minded influencers with robust followings to endorse the brand, such as Tim Westergren, Pandora founder, and Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founders of e-commerce company Gilt Groupe.
The collaborators, called Virgin America "Originals," appear without identification in a promotional interactive video that is the linchpin of the new campaign. The video, produced by Tool of North America, presents sports, concerts, movie and games available on the seat-back touch screens on the plane, and brings the programs to life with a few clicks from the viewer.
It is the first time that Virgin has tapped online video to give people who have never flown on the airline "a sense of what it's like in the plane cabin, and we do it in a cinematic, artful way," said Mike McKay, Eleven's chief creative officer.
"Our unique cabin experience has attracted many loyal travelers who challenge the status quo in their own fields," said Luanne Calvert, Virgin America marketing VP. "They've inspired us - and this campaign is a natural extension of that," she said.
Some of the anti-status-quo collaborators also contribute to the airline's onboard menu and music offerings. For instance, Ryan Schreiber, founder of indie music site Pitchfork, curated a new soundtrack and the Gilt co-founders created a new Gilt branded turkey, Brie and pear sandwich.
In addition to aligning the Virgin America name with tech and cultural trendsetters, the new campaign is reaching out to everyday customers. It asks flyers to submit photos via Twitter and Instagram of their experiences on Virgin America using the hashtag #myVXexperience.
Virgin is posting its favorites to Pinterest using the same hashtag. And, in late September the brand will run a digital billboard in Times Square that will feature the most interesting in-flight photos submitted by customers, and may also include live in-flight photos.
The campaign has a dedicated website http://experiencevirginamerica.com which houses the interactive video and requisite social links. A sampling of the user-generated photos and captions also appears on the site, via a link at the end of the video. The campaign also includes banner ads and outdoor displays, such as a wrap of a BART transit tunnel in San Francisco and billboards in major metro areas.
The social reach of the influencers is intended to help push out the campaign, McKay said. For instance, one Original is Adrian Grenier, filmmaker and actor from the HBO series "Entourage." He has 251,100 Twitter followers, many whom tweeted and retweeted about Grenier's involvement in the branded video. Gilt founders Maybank and Wilkis Wilson, who together have more than 33,000 Twitter followers, have been actively posting about Virgin America's new effort.
So far the campaign seems to be steadily gathering steam. Within six days, a YouTube version of the "Experience" campaign video - minus the interactive elements - had attracted about 1,800 views. The behind-the-scenes video about the campaign gained another 1,700 YouTube views.
On Twitter, customers posted about 60 posts and pictures with the campaign hashtag in the first five days. On Facebook, the campaign's customer-generated content seemed more popular than the brand's high-production video. A Facebook post about the video attracted about 100 likes, while more than 130 fans liked a post asking for customer in-flight photos. Still, some Facebook fans complained that they aren't allowed to turn on their smartphones to share photos when the plane is in flight. They also griped that they had to pay to use the on-board Wi-Fi, which wasn't always as speedy as they wanted.
Virgin America is a San Francisco-based airline that is partly owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and is an entirely separate company from Virgin Atlantic.
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Joan Voight is a Contributing Editor to ClickZ. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has covered online and offline media, marketing and advertising since the mid-1990s for several business publications. She spent nine years at Adweek magazine, where she was San Francisco bureau chief, national senior writer and contributing reporter.
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