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Why Did Richard Branson Play Hooky?

The Virgin Hotel spread awareness of its Chicago opening with a stunt that mimicked Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

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Photo: Courtesy of Virgin Hotels

The world's first Virgin Hotel opened in Chicago this winter; on April 16, the property hosted a grand-opening stunt that showcased the fun-loving personality of Virgin Group founder Richard Branson—and tied into local culture. Back in November, representatives from Virgin's head office and various hotel teams began brainstorming. "The goal," said a company rep, "was to come up with an activation that would drive media coverage, [spread awareness] in Chicago that the Virgin Hotel was open, and incorporate the city."

Riffing off the Chicago-based film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, organizers developed the idea of having Branson ride a float through city streets in a stunt that mimicked the movie's famous parade scene. The parade, which took place shortly after noon on the day of the hotel's grand-opening party, was a surprise. But planners began distributing clues before the spectacle took place by sending flyers with a #BransonsDayOff hashtag to businesses surrounding the downtown hotel. The night before the parade, Branson appeared at a Chicago Bulls game wearing a T-shirt that read "Let's Play Hooky," and also had the event's hashtag prominently displayed. Then, about an hour before the event, Branson appeared on local news show Windy City Live wearing a Ferris Bueller-inspired look and hinting that something was about to take place. Ultimately, some 500 guests came out to watch the spectacle. Los Angeles-based firm the DFM helped produce the stunt.

More Virgin Hotels will open soon, with the next property set to launch in Nashville in 2016.

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