Every once in a while a campaign comes along that just puts a massive smile on this churlish blog team’s face. 

Virgin America is having an excellent year in the digital world. In June it managed to turn the process of booking a flight into a joyous process with its brand new website (as thoroughly documented in Ben Davis’s 30 little things I love about the new Virgin America website).

It’s also excelling itself in the world of social video. I'm a huge fan of its branded Instavids.

This week sees the launch of a gigantic multichannel, world-building content campaign that is as hilarious as it is inventive. It’s also kind of boring and an expert lesson in what not to do on almost every digital channel in existence. 

Welcome to BLAH Airlines. Here's why it's so brilliant.

This six-hour advert

Yep. That’s right. SIX HOURS.

Oh sure you’ll never sit through the whole thing, but the very concept of a six-hour advert is intriguing in of itself.

You can read it as a reaction against the execrably named ‘snackable content’ and social video's ushering in of sub-15-second-long entertainment. 

If you want to be super intellectual you can draw parallels with this and the movement of ‘slow cinema’, where directors such as Bela Tarr and Theo Angelopoulos use achingly long takes to meditate on the smaller details of our lives, therefore saying much grander things about existence.

But mainly the advert is the perfect way to illustrate just how awful air travel can be. Six hours is a hell of a long time, why should you spend it staring at the back of another person’s chair or shifting your weight listlessly around an uncomfortable seat? 

It posits that BLAH Airlines is the antithesis of Virgin America, and that life is far too short to be wasting your time flying with any other airline.

That being said, if you pick a handful of random five-minute sections from the advert you’ll find plenty of inspired, subtly hilarious moments.

1h25m

This trippy, meaningless dream sequence that has the same soundtrack as a spa’s foyer. As far as dreams go, it’s still pretty damn boring.

2h05m

The flight attendant explains how to play rock, paper, scissors in a completely nonsensical and likely very dangerous way.

3h56m 

Spend more than 20 minutes watching the in-flight movie from seven rows back. It seems to be about a baby called ‘Giggling Gary’. You won’t be able to see any of it. 

A radical departure

At the 3h39m mark our mannequin friend gazes longingly out of the window as a Virgin America airplane passes across a purple sky. A link appears taking you directly to the Virgin America site. 

The ad will appear as a YouTube pre-roll

Yep. That’s right. The six-hour advert will appear as a YouTube pre-roll. Mercifully it is skippable, but this is still one of the funniest components of the whole campaign and rightfully skewers this heinous practice.

YouTube comments 

The comments are a joy to read, unlike the majority of most YouTube videos. Virgin America also keeps the community engaged with responses.

1-844-BLAH-AIR

Just to show that offline channels are just as important as online ones, BLAH Airlines has a dedicated hotline. Prepare for lengthy menu options and information regarding how long your flight has been delayed (you’ll notice there was no ‘if’ in that sentence).

This awful website 

Non-responsive, mobile unfriendly, difficult to read, grotesquely coloured and full of broken links. This is Blahairlines.com: 

It also takes ages to load…

Testimonials

Testimonials include, "the windows can be opened or closed," by Gwen G and, "if the only point in air travel is to get to your destination eventually, then I guess you could say that BLAH gets the job done," by Malilk B.

FAQs

Helpful answers to all your most pressing questions. “How early do I need to arrive at the airport?” BLAH Airlines suggests arriving early. “My bags are lost, what can I do?” BLAH Airlines is sorry you lost your bags and hopes you find them. 

Email

I emailed BLAH Airlines to see how it would respond.

In line with its word-building multichannel strategy (and utter lack of modern marketing skills) here is the response. 

Fax

There’s a fax number. It’s here amongst the ‘social’ buttons. 

If anyone would like to try this then please let me know the results. I would do it myself but... well... you know.  

Live chat

Everyone loves live chat, it’s a direct customer service channel that’s becoming more and more preferable for its speedy resolution and personalised touch.

You won’t feel that way after this...

Twitter

Featuring the strap line “our planes fly around,” a steadfast refusal to respond to social customer queries and one of the most unappealingly beige profile pictures in existence, this Twitter feed is still a joy to follow. 

Of course what’s truly brilliant about this is that, although the ‘automated’ and non-personalised responses are exactly how not to run a branded Twitter account, you need to know how to run a perfect Twitter to mock it so precisely. 

In reality, this feed is being run far better than many other legitimate ones. 

Instagram

BLAH Airlines has an Instagram account. Every single image makes you think that this will be the last ever flight you’ll ever take.

And this just says it all...

Our Festival of Marketing event in November is a two-day celebration of the modern marketing industry, featuring speakers from brands including LEGO, Tesco, Barclays, FT.com and more.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 21 October, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Ed Leake, Managing Director at Midas Media

"There’s a fax number. It’s here amongst the ‘social’ buttons."

Love it!

This made my morning, great read and an interesting concept, or in the words of Seth "the purple cow".

about 3 years ago

Joe Hawkes

Joe Hawkes, Senior Digital Marketing Executive at Charles Russell Speechlys

Amazing. It's always great to see Virgin taking more risks and further distancing itself from the creative stalemate of airline advertising.

about 3 years ago

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Benedicte van Boxel

A campaign that brings a laugh is always a winner! What is done in house or by an agency?

about 3 years ago

Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

@Benedicte - It's the work of Eleven Inc http://www.eleveninc.com/

about 3 years ago

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Jacky York, Consultant at Jacky York Marketing

Call me cynical. Is this going to be one of those campaigns loved by the industry, wins lots of awards for 'creativity' but doesn't actually 'sell' anything... like Guinness Ads. And it's the publicity created around the 'daring' campaign that gets the attention - rather than the campaign itself. Like the Dorio's black out tweet. One gets the feeling that the win here is in the 'look at what we are doing' to the press/commentators - hey I've read it and looked at the videos - resulting in wide media coverage that they don't have to pay for...

But - Virgin will never let on the reality of it's success or not.

about 3 years ago

Joe Hawkes

Joe Hawkes, Senior Digital Marketing Executive at Charles Russell Speechlys

@Jacky York

Sucess manifests itself in many ways.

99% of people will not watch this ad. All the video statistics will say that this ad is a failure: not many watches, people skipping forward and dropping off early etc.

But If despite this, the ad is loved by critics, wins awards, goes viral on blogs & social media, inspires countless articles, and ends up on everyone's 'Top 10 ads of 2014' lists, isn't that a success?

about 3 years ago

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Andrew Lloyd Gordon

As a marketer, I love this. It's different, creative and multichannel. It looks likes it ticks all of the boxes digital marketing judges have on their scorecards.

However...

As a customer, I'm not so sure.

Whilst the airline is one of the better ones I've flown on, I've had my issues with them (as with most airlines I guess). So, some of the humour - with them wagging a finger at other carriers - feels a bit hollow.

And if you check out their Twitter account, you see people complaining about issues they mock others for e.g. a broken website for example.

Again, I think this is great. But I wonder if some of this will come back to haunt them and whether the expression, 'people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones' will prove prophetic?

about 3 years ago

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Jacky York, Consultant at Jacky York Marketing

@joehawkins

I agree - success comes in many forms. And I suspect that this creative concept works very well with their target audience. I certainly don't fall in to any of their profile categories!

It is good to see innovation though in marketing and advertising, and I'm sure over the next couple of years we'll see this concept reinvented and used by other companies.

Maybe they need a club/social handle - the 546 - all those that have watched the whole video!

Are you a 546R?

could be the next cult....

Jacky

about 3 years ago

Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

UPDATE!

A very kind individual who goes by the Twitter handle @Grahas has used the fax number featured on the BLAH website. This is the hilarious result he received...

http://imgur.com/wLUCB6V

Thanks Graham!

about 3 years ago

James Carson

James Carson, Founder at Made From MediaSmall Business Multi-user

Great article - and a pretty daring campaign in my opinion. Basically sticking two fingers up at low cost carriers - something no one would have done five years ago.

I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of copycats across verticals... it's technically very easy to set up this mock system and just get one person to man all of the responses.

about 3 years ago

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Amy Ash, Ceo at Wildland design

Ogl, love it

12 months ago

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