A category of its own

Virgin is the quintessential category buster: successfully using unconventional models to advertise traditional products like airlines and financial services.

Virgin is the quintessential category buster: successfully using unconventional models to advertise traditional products like airlines and financial services.

Virgin Mobile’s recent entry into the Canadian marketplace provided a clean slate to the multifaceted company. Rather than market the brand similarly to other companies – in what Virgin’s Mobile’s Nathan Rosenberg considers a static and traditional Canadian cellphone market – a more free-flowing positioning based on the company’s values and the free spiritedness of its owner Richard Branson were used to define the brand. (Rosenberg’s title is just one example: He’s Virgin Mobile’s ‘main marketing man.’)

Rosenberg says the quirky ’60s retro print and TV ads supporting the launch are purposely anti-

category. ‘We don’t really focus on the phones the whole way through the ads, whereas many of our competitors would put the phone upfront and scream at [consumers] about price point.’

This positioning was not only crucial in launching the cellphone brand as an alternative to the other telecommunications companies, he says. It also helps lay the groundwork should any other Virgin brands enter Canada in the future, which he hints is currently being assessed.

‘[Branding outside of your category] extends your ability to actually connect with your customers,’ he says from the Toronto head office.

‘When you think about it, Richard started off as a record company and now he focuses on other areas internationally: aviation, financial services and mobile.’ And, says Rosenberg, although Branson’s roots are in music, his values have helped extend the reach of the brand. ‘You probably would have thought: ‘Why would Richard Branson do that [when] he’s a music guy,’ but it [works] because of [Virgin]‘s irreverence and fun and the ‘static-ness’ of the brands that currently operate in those industries.’

Nathan Rosenberg gives the keynote address at strategy’s 8th annual Understanding Youth Conference, June 8 and 9. Visit www.understandingyouth.com to learn more.