Inside Virgin America’s Long-Form Video Content Strategy

More impor­tant than length, video con­tent should reach the right audi­ence on the right plat­form at the right moment.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

In a world of increas­ing­ly short atten­tion spans and bad air­line ser­vice, Vir­gin Amer­i­ca made a com­pelling case for long-form video con­tent in detail­ing the strat­e­gy behind its own bold con­tent move with a near­ly six-hour video.

It’s an exam­ple of a brand with a firm sense of pur­pose – seek­ing to dis­tin­guish itself from oth­er air­lines with an equal­ly unique video – and that also had fun with the con­tent and con­cept.

But the brand and its agency cau­tioned recent­ly at ad:tech that even though the long-form video worked for Vir­gin in this case, rather than con­tent length, mar­keters’ focus should be on know­ing a brand’s pur­pose, as well as on chang­ing con­sumer behav­ior and atti­tude, in addi­tion to what­ev­er exe­cu­tion works for a giv­en idea.

Have You Been Flying Blah Airlines?

Jon Gor­don, cre­ative design direc­tor at Vir­gin Amer­i­ca, said while there are obvi­ous advan­tages to being short and con­cise, Vir­gin nev­er­the­less set out to make the longest ad pos­si­ble in its Have You Been Fly­ing BLAH Air­lines? video.

Gor­don calls the spot, which is near­ly six hours long, the “longest ad ever” – which may have been true until Arby’s debuted its 8- and 13-hour videos of brisket and turkey roast­ing – and he said the brand wasn’t sure if con­sumers would actu­al­ly watch the video, but they did. Indeed, per YouTube, the video has more than 830,000 views since it post­ed in Octo­ber, despite what the brand says includ­ed lit­tle overt pro­mo­tion.

In fact, per Aryan Amin­zadeh, senior cre­ative writer at cre­ative mar­ket­ing agency Eleven, the film is near­ly six hours long in order to show­case pre­cise­ly what it’s like to fly across the U.S. on a “bor­ing” air­line. She also said she was unsure whether con­sumers would watch – and keep watch­ing – if that’s all there was.

While Blah Air­lines is cer­tain­ly bor­ing, the team took care to inter­sperse just enough con­tent to keep con­sumers watch­ing. What’s more, the team cre­at­ing the video was able to refer to its own painful flight expe­ri­ences on oth­er air­lines to “cre­ate bor­ing yet inter­est­ing con­tent to watch,” she said.

In oth­er words, the video is full of addi­tion­al bits and pieces, like two inflight movies, as well as a cast of char­ac­ters like a ram­bunc­tious child and bach­e­lorette par­ty attendee who has had too much to drink. In addi­tion, Blah Air­lines’ enter­tain­ment options include lis­ten­ing to the dic­tio­nary read aloud and Air Junk mag­a­zine, where cus­tomers can buy prod­ucts like paper clips and bricks.

And, she notes, view­ers don’t see any Vir­gin brand­ing until approx­i­mate­ly three hours and 30 min­utes into the video when a Vir­gin plane flies by. View­ers who scroll over the plane are invit­ed to “take a rad­i­cal depar­ture” and are then tak­en to the Vir­gin book­ing page.

Amin­zadeh also said the brand made a pur­pose­ful deci­sion not to include time codes to tip off view­ers, and it’s “amaz­ing how much word spread [about where the parts were] and it’s not an adver­tis­er feed­ing them, ‘Watch this, watch that.”

As a result, Amin­zadeh said the brand saw a 621 per­cent increase in con­ver­sa­tions and 138 mil­lion earned media impres­sions as video pre­roll.

Gor­don also said the brand want­ed to “extend the bad flight expe­ri­ence beyond the flight itself.”

In order to do so, Vir­gin seed­ed mul­ti­ple ways to get in touch with Blah Air­lines through­out, includ­ing a web­site, as well as phone and fax num­bers, an email address, a live chat option and con­tent on social chan­nels. Per Gor­don, the Twit­ter han­dle includes “canned feed­back” and the Insta­gram chan­nel has “tons of unin­spir­ing pho­tos.”

Shake Travelers Out of Autopilot’

Gor­don said Vir­gin came onto the scene “to make fly­ing good again,” and notes the bar for the prod­uct expe­ri­ence (i.e., fly­ing) was quite low, so the brand sought to improve the prod­uct itself by adding perks like enter­tain­ment sys­tems on the back of every seat on its planes, along with oth­er extras like Wi-Fi, out­lets, and mood light­ing.

The prob­lem we were fac­ing is that peo­ple are behold­en to lega­cy air­lines, so we want­ed to remind them they have a choice,” Gor­don said. “So we went to our part­ner Eleven with this in mind to shake trav­el­ers out of autopi­lot.”

Instead of short ads with mes­sag­ing about the brand’s ameni­ties and advan­tages, Vir­gin opt­ed to go in the oppo­site direc­tion with a six-hour film about fly­ing on its com­pe­ti­tion in which it “shared an expe­ri­ence where there was noth­ing to do, which is the oppo­site of our prod­uct,” Gor­don said.

And thus Blah Air­lines was born.

The Content Formula

As a result, Amin­zadeh said the brand learned there is no pre­cise for­mu­la for whether to pro­duce long- or short-form con­tent. It’s real­ly just what works for a giv­en idea.

Our idea was we want­ed to show you how bor­ing it is when you’re not on Vir­gin and let’s do it all the way and take it seri­ous­ly,” she said.

Marc Lands­berg, CEO of social media agency socialde­viant, said not every unit of con­tent will lead to a con­ver­sion, but the point here was to get con­sumers talk­ing about Vir­gin in anoth­er way.

The pur­chase fun­nel is non­lin­ear now and inher­ent­ly social, so you have to find ways to cre­ate val­ue for con­sumers,” Lands­berg said. “We fun­da­men­tal­ly believe the mar­ket­ing job to be done in all cas­es is to change behav­ior and then through that behav­ior change, change atti­tude, and build some loy­al­ty ver­sus old mar­ket­ing [tac­tics] that want­ed to change atti­tude and then behav­ior.”

In oth­er words, mar­keters shouldn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly ape Vir­gin and roll out their own six-hour videos. That’s because in order to be suc­cess­ful with con­tent of any length, brands must first fig­ure out what makes them tick.

Per Lands­berg, con­tent is the expres­sion of brand pur­pose and it’s easy to point to brands that gen­uine­ly know their pur­pose, such as Nike, which is about the inner ath­lete, and Apple, which is about bring­ing tech­nol­o­gy to human­i­ty. Or per­haps, say, Vir­gin.

Once you nail [brand pur­pose], you can express your­self cre­ative­ly,” Lands­berg said.

It also shouldn’t be about cre­at­ing con­tent for a spe­cif­ic plat­form. In fact, per Lands­berg, plat­form is one of the last things he talks about. Instead, he said he looks at the mar­ket­ing job to be done, the fun­da­men­tal truth about the audi­ence, and then nar­ra­tive con­tain­ers and con­tent types.

New plat­forms come and go,” Lands­berg said. “We love to ask our­selves, ‘What’s the best nar­ra­tive con­tain­ers?’ and then match that to the con­sumer need state.”

Regard­less of whether a brand opts for short- or long-form con­tent, the mod­el must res­onate with the audi­ence, he said. And brands must think care­ful­ly about the medi­um for shar­ing the idea. They must also think about their objec­tive and why con­sumers go to giv­en plat­forms. Then they should think about con­tent types and the for­mat in which the idea comes to life and anchor con­tent around the audi­ence, Lands­berg said.

The ques­tion isn’t long or short, it’s, ‘Is this the right con­tent for the right audi­ence on the right plat­form in the right moment?’”

Brands must also iden­ti­fy the rea­son for cre­at­ing the idea and tie it into an emo­tion­al need, which can even include func­tion­al needs such as pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion.

What nev­er changes is the anchor around the human con­di­tion,” Lands­berg said. “Try to make sure to com­bine a fun­da­men­tal human need with the mar­ket­ing job to be done.”

Have you found your con­sumers have a pref­er­ence for long-form or short-form video con­tent?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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