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Virgin Group Brand Case Study

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Shelley Mantei

Virgin: Branding Culture

Subject: Virgin Group Ltd.

Sir Richard Branson started with a student magazine and a mail order record company in 1971. His Virgin empire is now comprised of over 200 companies [Fig.3] and spans three continents. Not only is Virgin one of Britain's most respected brands, but it is also becoming an international superbrand. They are involved in planes, trains, finance, soft drinks, music, mobile phones, holidays, cars, wines, publishing, bridal wear, and more. What unites all these businesses is the values of their brand and the attitude of their 30,000 employees. Total 2003 global revenues exceeded CAD$7.4 billion.

Virgin has positioned themselves as the consumer's champion and strives to be known for developing products and services that make the consumer's life easier - delivering better value, a better service, challenging the status quo, and injecting an element of fun. (

Virgin believes in making a difference and their corporate mandate states: "we stand for value for money, quality, innovation, fun, competitive challenge, and brilliant customer service" ( whatwereabout/default.asp).

Brand Analysis:

Today a brand is no longer simply a logo or icon. It is also a totally holistic experience, in which all activities must be aligned and integrated to gain maximum competitive advantage.

Virgin has proved remarkably adept at diversifying its business interests - from trains, planes and automobiles to vodka. It's strange to think the Virgin brand is now over 30 years old because its most enduring characteristic is being the young, unconventional upstart that challenges the business establishment. Virgin's brand has long been associated with standing up for the consumer against monopoly giants and rip-off services. So what has made this brand so engaging and youthful despite the years?

The Name Game

At the company's conception Virgin's naming strategy was to adopt an evocative name. This innovation forces people to create a separate box in their head to put Virgin in. The key is to adjust the social reality and to do it in a fresh way that hits home with the audience.

Blumer explains, "that humans act toward people or things on the basis of the meanings they assign to those people or things" (Griffin, 2003, p.56). There is nothing inherently raw, pure, or innocent about the word "virgin". This meaning is negotiated by the use of language and social interaction. Through this relationship of "symbolic interactionism" meaning is ascribed and social reality is constructed. However, through a process of "minding" individual interpretation of symbols is often modified by personal thoughts and experiences. (Griffin, 2003, p.57-58).

Virgin's challenge is to employ a minding strategy to break conventional perception of what "virgin" means. Through original PR and marketing initiatives they reframe - "change the conceptual and/or emotional setting or viewpoint in relation to which a situation is experienced and to place it in another frame which fits the facts of the concrete situation equally well or even better, and thereby changes its entire meaning" (Griffin, 2003, p.178).

Another way Virgin has changed perception is through creating new language and neologisms. When creating new words there is the danger or confusing audiences. To avoid this danger Virgin carefully generates new words that describe the essence of their culture, rather than new things. For example:

* Virgin-ness

* Virgin-style

The methodology behind this can by explained by Sheena Macdonald, a Virgin executive, "We wanted to make sure that we used the sort of language which our people would connect with, and which reflected our culture - rather than the usual generic-sounding labels" (

Language is a powerful tool that provides a screen or filter to reality and determines how individuals use minding to perceive and organize their social world (Wardhaugh, 2002, p.223). Vague neologisms leave individual minding to define what the new word means and creates the opportunity for language to create a new reality.

What is known of a "virgin" is through carefully selected words and images that narrate what ought to be thought and understood. If language changes the reality of what "virgin" becomes (Lakoff, 2001, p.20), what does the company Virgin then stand for?

* Traditional: Untouched, pure, raw, innocent, inexperienced, naпve.

* New Brand: Exciting, alive, fun, confident, unconventional, bold,


* Mediating: Virgin employs tactics to counter potentially negative

pre-conceptions of the word "virgin" e.g. Virgin Atlantic's slogan "more experience that our name suggests."

The Ultimate Sign

Virgin has been described as the brand that is so many different things for so many people. In fact, Virgin is often cited as an example to silence those claiming that no brand can be everything to everyone. They are able to do this because they have successfully leveraged "polysemy - the potential of signs to carry multiple meanings" (Lewis, 2002, p.260). Audiences variously draw on the raw materials and the deliverables of the Virgin culture to make sense of these signs.

Virgin's most recognizable sign is not their logo - it is CEO and Chairman, Sir Richard Branson. Branson has become an integral part of the brand itself and is regularly employed as Virgin's most effective PR weapon. His antics include flying around the world in a balloon (well almost), dressing up as a Virgin bride, and driving a tank through Times Square for a fictitious Cola war. The link to the real person in the form of Branson humanizes the brand in tandem with its philosophy of people first.

Another benefit of linkage to Branson is affinity with the



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