Greater China: Copy claim hits Virgin ad launch

HONG KONG: Virgin Atlantic Airways has rolled out an extensive launch promotion to differentiate its new and award-winning Upper Class Suite from rivals' flat-bed offers, but immediately found itself mired in controversy over the campaign's similarity to a British Airways' ad from two years ago.

The print component of both campaigns feature graphs to illustrate the offer of uninterrupted sleep for their upfront flat bed products.

Virgin's 'Straight Talk' campaign was developed by local shop Get Smart, with MEC Global handling media. It comprises print ads in English- and Chinese-language dailies and magazines, outdoor on Central tram stations and a video wall commercial in the underground railway.

M&C Saatchi created BA's 'It has to be flat' campaign, which ran in May 2002. "Virgin is so impressed with the flat bed of British Airways that not only did they copy the product but the advertising concept as well," said an industry observer.

When asked about the apparent similarities between the ads,Virgin's PR and marketing manager for Hong Kong, Angelina Wong, countered: "Our ads are always simple, often cheeky and frequently irreverent."

Virgin claims its Upper Class Suite, which has won six major design awards, including a D&AD Pencil for product design, features the longest bed of any airline's first or business class product at 80 inches in length.

Having lagged rivals like BA and Qantas in launching flat bed seats, Virgin claims it has introduced extra services to add greater value to its Upper Class. According to Wong, "other airlines only have the seat" while Virgin also offers a four-way complimentary limousine service, The Clubhouse, the Freedom menu, in-flight massage and drive through check-in.

Direct mailers to Virgin club members, business database and corporate clients have also been distributed as part of the campaign, which includes roadshows and seminars to promote the new service. With its business traveller-target, the ads makes liberal use of puns on business-speak, for example, 'fat bonuses' and 'suite advantages'.

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