Building Buzz With Videos: Richard Branson's Daredevil Stunt

By Brendan Spiegel April 7, 2008, 1:50 PM EDT

A shot from a YouTube video of Branson's jump

Photo: Courtesy of TODDEITM

This story is part of our series on building event buzz with online videos.

Virgin America, the Stateside branch of the British-owned airline, has made YouTube a central part of several marketing efforts. While the company was working to convince the U.S. Department of Transportation to approve its airline application, the brand launched a series of widely viewed Web videos showing off its new planes’ sleek design and high-tech entertainment features. When Virgin premiered an onboard safety video starring quirky cartoon characters, the company slapped it on YouTube, and the safety announcement—so often ignored by frequent travelers—has now been viewed by hundreds of thousands online. And when the airline held a “Victoria’s Secret in-flight supermodel pajama party,” there was, needless to say, significant online interest.

Of all of Virgin’s diverse promotional events, the daredevil antics of C.E.O. Richard Branson fit best with the YouTube aesthetic. When Branson rappelled off the Fantasy Tower at the Palms Casino to promote Virgin’s service from Las Vegas to San Francisco, the stunt, produced by Virgin America’s in-house marketing shop in concert with Ogilvy PR, not only drew hundreds of live spectators, but several attendees also filmed home videos of the event, which were posted to YouTube and have drawn almost 50,000 views.

Abby Lunardini, director of corporate communications at Virgin America, says traditional media strategy applies to Web video, but the vast online landscape means a Web video has to be that much more original to grab the attention of online users. “You need some news, something interesting and slightly different,” Lunardini says. “That applies to PR in general, not just online. It’s just a higher standard in that sphere, because [bloggers] are inundated with info, press releases, and events, and they are sophisticated.

“Because [our] planes look so different and because we are doing some pretty ridiculous PR events, we tend to just get a lot of video blogs, trip reports, and natural buzz, and then it gets out there on YouTube pretty fast,” she adds.

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