Long-form cinematic ads are nothing new, but this latest one, in which Virgin Atlantic bestows superhero creation myths on its staffers, pilots, and engineers, is an exemplar of the form. Have a look--it makes for an enjoyable watch.
The notion of flying in the face of the ordinary, the ad's premise, is in the DNA of Virgin founder Richard Branson. I used to find Virgin's flouting of convention annoying, a pose, like a guy wearing his pants backwards (who needs you to see it). I remember a long-ago press conference--for what product or service, who knows--that Branson parachuted, parasailed, parasomethinged into, and thought the only thing a reasonable spectator could think of a man so clearly delighted with himself: "Asshole."
[ Watch: Another fine cinematic ad, featuring a pluckish scarecrow and suicidal cow ]
It was a CBC radio show--the wonderful Age of Persuasion--that turned me around. In accounting for Virgin's success, the host, advertising expert Terry O'Reilly, underscored that Branson's true genius is the consistency of his flamboyance and provocation, dating to his earliest entrepreneurial ventures. More than they're a marketing ploy, the actions are him--a genuine expression of the man and the business he built. An asshole, maybe, but an authentic one.
I used to work at a Vancouver publishing house. In the lobby, hung in a wooden frame, were the Seven Principles of Our Business. Everyone's familiar with the timbre of such mission statements--probity over profit, relationships, trust, something about foundation, and a sensitive parsing of the word "value." As commandments, they're as easily forgotten and ignored as the lesser Christian ones, like not coveting your neighbour's wife.
[ Photos: World's best flight attendants and airlines in 2013 ]
The point is, Richard Branson, goofball that he is, is impossible to ignore. That's because he lives his principles. Terry O'Reilly, who knows his stuff, calls the Virgin mission statement the best he's ever seen. He read it on the air, and I'll cite it here, in full. I'm interested to hear what you make of it.
Everybody wants the next great thing. Even us.
So we are a music store, who became an airline, who became a soft drink company, who became over 200 different businesses all over the planet united by one simple common thought:
We want to do what's never been done before.
We want to create stuff that's valuable. And honest. And is worth making in the first place.
We want to have fun while we're doing it.
And we want our competitors to find us really, completely irritating.