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Does Virgin Bingo's New Ad Push Branson's Elastic Brand Too Far?

Posted by Barry Silverstein on January 25, 2012 01:57 PM

There really seems to be no end to the far-flung Virgin brand empire. Richard Branson, the entrepreneurial and brash personification of the brand, is always pushing his way into new and often unrelated business ventures. Just weeks ago, Virgin Money took over Northern Rock's 75 bank branches in the UK, acquiring four million customers in the bargain.

It isn't Virgin's only foray into the world of money; in fact, you might say its Virgin Games division revolves around cash (or is a license to print money). The business unit includes Virgin Casino, Virgin Mobile Casino, Virgin Poker, and Virgin Bingo, which offers cash prizes worth thousands of pounds in progressive jackpots. And it's Virgin Bingo's latest ad campaign that may have a Brit or two raising an eyebrow — and asking how far the elastic brand that is Virgin can stretch.

Abandoning its animated ads of the past, Virgin Bingo's new television ad is extravagant and, well, naughty. An attractive young woman is taken backstage by a male tour guide to see the inner workings of a Virgin Bingo factory. She discovers Virgin staffers, all female, dancing around and having a grand old time working on the bingo equipment.

She asks in amazement, "Are they polishing balls?" The tour guide quips, "Just wait 'til you see our amazing sign-up bonus." A shirtless dreamboat named Ricardo reveals a promotional offer ("Deposit 10 pounds and play with 35 pounds.") "Very nice," says the woman, with a somewhat lascivious leer. At the end of the spot, she asks the tour guide, "Can I have Ricardo's number?"

The commercial is part of a £500,000 campaign running in the UK during the first quarter, targeting women between the ages of 25 and 54 with a media buy on daytime television.

Virgin Games CEO Simon Burridge says the new ad "has a flavor of Willy Wonka for adults about it. It has lots of energy, excitement and fun — just what consumers have come to expect from a Virgin advert."

Burridge adds that television advertising is a "natural fit for bingo. Consumer trust and a sense of security and familiarity are very important attributes for a bingo brand. Being part of the Virgin brand helps to reassure customers that they are playing with a reputable company, while TV ads raise awareness of our existence and help to reinforce that trust and brand awareness."

Consumers have come to expect the unexpected from Virgin, and that's what they'll get with the Virgin Bingo ad campaign. Some may feel the new ad pushes the boundaries of good taste... but when did a little controversy ever hurt Richard Branson's Virgin (or personal) brand?

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