Officially established in 1984, Virgin Atlantic is a 29-year-old airline created by the eccentric visionary Richard Branson. Upon experiencing what Branson deemed an “unpleasant flight”, Branson took the initiative to create “the kind of airline that people would like to fly.” Thus, with the name “Virgin” and a bright red color scheme, Virgin Atlantic has attempted to create a pristine and revolutionary identity as opposed to the conservative, traditional, and essentially, dull identities other airlines personify. One way Branson and Virgin Atlantic have continued to distinguish Virgin Atlantic from other airlines is through brand messaging and advertisements. In its most current campaign, Virgin Atlantic seeks to continue to differentiate itself through branding techniques that exemplify glamour and sex appeal.

One of the key aspects of this campaign is a television commercial broadly entitled, “Flying in the Face of Ordinary” seen below.

To briefly summarize the commercial, viewers follows several young children around the world from the time of birth as they gain various superpowers that include telepathy, incredible reflexes, and an exceptional genius. As years go on, these children grow into superheroes that band together on Virgin Atlantic so as to save the common folk from “bland” and “ordinary” flight experiences on other airlines. Upon watching the commercial, perhaps the first notion one would comment on is the high quality of aesthetics the commercial commands; there is the grand voice of a narrator, a classical music score in the background, and a rich color scheme that all lend itself to a fantastical and cinematic nature. Given the obvious high production value, it is clear that Virgin Atlantic is attempting to stay out of the realm of “ordinary” or the “status quo.” This approach to a commercial is effective in retaining the attention of an audience. In television, reaching an attractive audience through a commercial is very difficult as there is an immense amount of clutter and competition (Leiss, et al., 199). As further explained, “The problem of ‘information overload’ describe consumers’ inability to make effective timely choices about what to consume due to an excess of information and a lack of time to identify and assess useful or valuable data” (Manzerolle and Smeltzer, 329). Thus, as Leiss describes, one way to break through the clutter and garner the appropriate attention of viewers is through high aesthetic quality, which this commercial clearly makes use of (Leiss, et al., 199).

In addition, when analyzing the content of the commercial, specifically the characters, it is clear that Virgin Atlantic is attempting to interpellate viewers through glamour and taste. Each of the characters, while signifying immense talents, also signifies overwhelming attractiveness. Each character is relatively young, good-looking by society’s standards, polished, and apart of an elite, esteemed group that many gape at. They also each exude a sense of passion and vibrancy in the work place that is typically not found in the average working environment. This relates to the idea that, “advertisements are structured to boost the value of a commodity brand name by attaching it to images that possess social and cultural value” (Goldman and Papson, 81). Everything that this commercial touches upon – youth, physical attractiveness, exclusivity, and energy – are all valued in society as something to strive for (though not everyone can attain it). It is this combination of valued social and cultural factors within each character that not only expresses a sense of glamour, but also interpellates the viewer to feel as though they too can be just as glamorous by flying Virgin Atlantic. Leiss explains that “the expanded field of signs also became a rich resource for identity projects […] the meaning of the goods had become essential to […] key aspects of the person’s sense of self” (Leiss, et al., 307). Hence, because advertisements use images that are culturally dependent on the values of society, it is up to the audience to realize how the glamour of Virgin Atlantic can fit into their personal sense of identity: it is the idea that if you fly Virgin Atlantic, you too will be a part of a sexy, modern, and exclusive community.

Thus, what these values and glamour draw upon is the idea of “taste.” While the term is relatively broad, Leiss explains “taste identifies the individual and their choices in relationship to the diverse and changing cultural field” (Leiss, et al., 305). Essentially, taste is a statement of one’s own preferences towards various commodities. Leiss furthers this point by indicating that those with high taste also have “considerable cultural capital” who “utilize its power to assure that their taste are recognized as being superior” (Leiss, et al., 305). Given the idea of exclusivity and glamour portrayed in the commercial, high taste can also therefore be associated to the brand. Thus, since glamour is essentially something taste sets out to achieve, it is apparent that Virgin Atlantic is seeking to identify with those that pride themselves on having high cultural capital. As a result, this can be associated with the idea of status and conspicuous consumption – that is, consuming luxury items so as to be identified as elite (Veblen, 24). Leiss explains that, “some sectors of society use goods to mark their uniqueness. Elites engage in conspicuous consumption, and flaunt their aesthetic knowledge in consumption acts” (Leiss, et al., 303). It is clear, therefore, that as Virgin Atlantic is attempting to garner an identity of high taste with this commercial, elites would feel connected enough to “consume” or choose Virgin Atlantic so as to “flaunt” and show society that they have high “aesthetic knowledge” of products, or in this case, airlines. Without saying anything, if people were to select Virgin Atlantic as their preferred airline, they would make a statement that not only do they not fly “ordinary”, but also that they themselves are not “ordinary people.”

Adding to this campaign of glamour and high taste is the idea of leisure that can be seen in their in-flight promotional pamphlets below.

6a00d8341c51c053ef00e54f6c32ae8833-800wi

(adweek.blog.com)

Without much analysis needed, it very clear that these pamphlets are advertising their flight experience with connotations of sex. As anyone should and would know, sex sells. As explained by Leiss, “The sexual explicitness of contemporary advertising is a sign not so much of American sexual fantasies as of the lengths to which advertisers will go to get attention. Sex never fails as an attention-getter” (Leiss, et al., 446). In addition to seeking out attention, sex creates an environment of edginess and modernity. Similar to the creative revolution in the 1960s, these pamphlets exude a sense of humor, wit, and freedom that are not typically seen in advertising, let alone aircrafts (Frank, 54). While sex is much more widely discussed in society, it is still relatively taboo to explicitly reference, especially when in the company of strangers on an airplane. Hence, these pamphlets essentially “break the ice” and the rigid bars of societal norms, adding a spark of edginess to the experience that is playful and exciting – something other airlines arguably lack. They give off the idea that this airplane doesn’t follow the rules of society; it is free, spontaneous, and out of the ordinary.

A second addition to the in-flight promotional elements is Virgin Atlantic’s exclusive magazine entitled, Runway Magazine.

000c0065-0000-0000-0000-000000000000_00000065-0687-0000-0000-000000000000_20111207213326_virgin-atlantic-flight-attendants

(virginatlantic.com)

This magazine is meant to rival high-production magazines such as Vanity Fair and The Hollywood Reporter; it is dedicated to fashion, celebrity interviews, and luxury city guides for every city that Virgin Atlantic travels to. With this high production quality and exclusivity to the airline, the magazine yet again plays off of the idea of high cultural capital and high taste. As noted, those with high taste and capital seek products that are rare and cater to an elite class (Leiss, et al., 307). Yet, even more than taste, when combining the elements of both the magazine and the sexual pamphlets, they come together to create an ambiance of “leisure” on board, which in society is what everyone strives to attain. As Thorstein Veblen explains, “A life of leisure is the readiest and most conclusive evidence of pecuniary strength, and therefore of superior force” (Veblen, 25). Thus, it is the idea that you as a flyer have the time and the leisure to not just fly to a city, but rather, you have the freedom to interact with a playful, yet elegant, atmosphere.

The last part of the campaign is dedicated to lifestyle branding and marketing. Virgin Atlantic has a glamorous and sexy style embodied by the stewardesses of the airline. As seen below in a YouTube video of the stewardesses getting ready for a Runway Magazine photoshoot, women of the airline are generally young, fresh, and attractive.

As they wear a red uniform composed of a short mini skirt, a tailored red blazer, a colorful scarf, fresh hairdo, and an iconic red lipstick, the women, to most, would signal a mixture of business and pleasure, something the airline hopes to exude. Yet, to take the style of the stewardesses’ uniform even further, Branson released a YouTube video on the Virgin Atlantic channel entitled “New Red Threads” revealing a collaboration with Vivienne Westwood to modernize the stewardesses’ outfits.

What is important to note, is that for those who are not fashion savvy, Vivienne Westwood is a couture fashion designer, lending her clothing to exclusivity and immense decadence. Thus, not only will these outfits signal high taste and style, but they will also be a walking advertisement to both flyers and potential employees that Virgin Atlantic represents a fashion-forward, modern lifestyle. Through conspicuous consumption yet again, these stewardesses will be walking in such avant-garde clothing, and without saying a word, are able to indicate to passengers they are in the presence of an exclusive, high-fashion design. What’s more is that Vivienne Westwood is an international designer that many Americans may not have heard of. This plays into the idea of high cultural capital in that “cultural elites look beyond their local groups to international elites for their consumption cues” (Leiss, et al., 520). Thus, because those with high capital “appreciate abstraction” and “refer to work by the producer’s name”, those that recognize Westwood’s work will “assert superiority” over generic airline passengers without such knowledge (Leiss, et al., 307).

In a more subdued note, there is an added element of “eco-friendliness” to Westwood’s upcoming outfits. This is known as “cause related marketing”, or advertising that attempts to appeal to the ethical or caring consumer (Littler, 27). In using Westwood’s name alongside an environmental cause, the new outfits for Virgin Atlantic are thus positioning glamour and altruism as purchasable experiences (Littler, 27). While the passengers themselves may not be able to purchase the eco-friendly uniforms, they are now able to positively associate Virgin Atlantic beyond the glamour as an altruistic entity that many would feel they might as well engage with and thus choose over other airlines. Whether or not these passengers are actually being eco-friendly themselves is another question entirely, but the campaign essentially gives people a moral feeling that because they are interacting with an altruistic brand that they too are being mindful of the environment, all with the added bonuses of glamour and leisure that comes with the aircraft.

The last portion of the lifestyle component is Virgin Atlantic’s collaboration with Bare Minerals to create its very own bright red lipstick entitled “Upper Class Red.”

(todayshow.com)

(todayshow.com)

The name alone indicates a sense of eliteness and sophistication associated with the brand that many in society seek to engage with. As a spokesperson for the company expressed, “Red lips signify jet-set glamour and style synonymous with the Virgin Atlantic brand”. Thus, it is a way for women to tap into the sexy lifestyle that Virgin Atlantic continues to portray as in the aforementioned commercial. Yet, perhaps the biggest issue that cannot be overlooked that both the lipstick and the Vivienne Westwood outfit exemplify is one of femininity. In addition to bold, red lips, Westwood explains in the YouTube video she creates clothing that is “body conscious”, that “look more hourglass, more woman.” Virgin Atlantic is thus seeking to empower women through their physical appearance as defined by society’s stereotypical standards: youth, fashion, beauty, body, make-up, etc. As Robert Goldman and his colleagues state, “Femininity has become widely synonymous with the intensive scrutiny [and] visual dissection of the female body into zones of consumption – lips, cheekbones, breasts, hips, waist, legs” (Goldman, et al., 337). While society is currently undergoing bouts of feminism combating these ideals of beauty and femininity, Virgin Atlantic is not questioning that women should have power, but that women should get power based on how they look (Johnston and Taylor, 953). As depicted in the “Flying in the Face of the Ordinary” commercial and the image of the stewardesses at the photo shoot, Virgin Atlantic women are supposed to be confident, independent, powerful, and glamorous women, yet the underlying theme is that they can only be those things if they are physically perfected as a feminine woman (Johnston and Taylor, 953).

To sum up the campaign, Branson once noted that, “An airline has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.” With its current campaign, Virgin Atlantic has attempted to raise its level of “fun” and “creative instincts” by creating a world of glamour and leisure through television, in-flight elements, and lifestyle marketing. Whether or not one agrees with the images portrayed in the campaign, it is undeniable that it is pretty influential. What makes this campaign ultimately work is that all of these components come together under the idea of commodity fetishism, that is, the idea that as we consume commodities, we also assign meanings to them (Marx, 319). Essentially, because society has trained humans to consume various goods not for their function, but for the values that they represent, it works for Virgin Atlantic to therefore associate itself with a lifestyle of luxury and leisure as these are values most sought out by all classes in contemporary society. As a result, more people will continue to fly the airline not just for the function to get to a city, but rather as a status symbol of glamour that differentiates themselves from other classes

Works Cited

Frank, Thomas. “Advertising as Cultural Criticism.” N.p.: n.p., 1997. 53-73. Print.

Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson. “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” The Consumer Society Reader. New York: New York, 1996. 81-97. Print.

Goldman, Robert, Deborah Heath, and Sharon L. Smith. “Commodity Feminism.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 8 (1991): 333-51. Print.

Johnston, Josee, and Judith Taylor. “Feminist Consumerism and Fat Activists.” SIGNS: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 33.4 (2008): 941-62. Print.

Leiss, William, Jackie Botterill, Stephen Kline, and Sut Jhally. Social Communication in Advertising: Consumption in the Mediated Marketplace. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Littler, Jo. “Cosmopolitan Caring: Globalization, Charity, and the Activist-consumer.” Radical Consumption: Shopping for Change in Contemporary Culture. New York: Open UP, 2009. 23-49. Print.

Manzerolle, Vincent, and Sandra Smeltzer. “Consumer Databases and the Commercial Mediation of Identity.” Surveillance and Society 3rd ser. 3 (2011): 323-35. Print.

Marx, Karl. “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof.” Capital 1 (1867): 319-28. Print.

Veblen, Thorstein. “Conspicuous Leiusre.” The Theory of the Leisure and Class. New York: Dover Publications, 1899. 23-42. Print.

 

Advertisements