Branson: ‘Brands should create headlines, not campaigns’

Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson and the CMO of the group’s mobile company Ron Faris have asserted that brands must be “willing to have a sense of humour” and should adopt “newsroom marketing” in order to be successful.

richard branson

Speaking at Dreamforce in San Francisco, Sir Richard Branson said, as a company that it smaller than a lot of its competitors, Virgin has needed to be “ready and willing to pull their tail quite a bit”.

As an example, Sir Richard recalled the time when British Airways was launching its sponsorship of the London Eye, but technical problems meant the wheel could not be erected. He heard of the difficulties and scrambled an air ship towards the site of the press launch, bearing a banner that read “BA can’t get it up”.

He said: “Humour is a very important part of building a business. [It is about] not taking yourself too seriously…”

Virgin Mobile is one of the group’s challenger brands, using humour to steal; attention from rivals larger rivals with bigger marketing budgets, such as Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T.

It has taken on a “snarky” and comedic brand voice and has run a series of headline-grabbing marketing campaigns, including manufacturing their own celebrity couple “Sparah” (Spencer Falls and Sarah Carroll). The fake celebrities gained mass attention from US gossip sites when they were seen “dating” other celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan and Gerard Butler.

Speaking to Marketing Week at Dreamforce, Virgin Mobile’s CMO Ron Faris said such campaigns, which rely heavily on social media and PR, are an example of “newsroom marketing”, which he advises all brands to adopt – even those that do not suit a humorous brand voice.

He describes newsroom marketing as “owning the water cooler” and turning company news or campaigns into content that makes the media headlines. Newsroom marketing also involves creating content intended to go viral on social media channels such as Facebook, Buzzfeed and Twitter, and turning brand microsites into formats more akin to media channels that take on the brand’s voice.

He said: “[Our newsroom marketing strategy] was born out of that [Sparah] campaign as we learnt a lot from celebrity PR, which was so inspirational to figure out how you can turn your brand into a celebrity and treat your brand with a lot more urgency and context.

“All brands were sluggish in the past and some still are tied into marketing quarters and media buy but the more you’re tied in the more you’re committed to slots as opposed to having freeform expression of your own brand voice…it’s limiting.”

As a result of the shift to an always-on marketing model, Faris adds its pay monthly customer base is up 80 per cent since it made the switch. People who view Virgin Mobile content on social media and seeded content to celebrity sites are 30 per cent more likely to purchase than other consumers, he claims.

Speaking at a Dreamforce breakout session he said: “Newsroom marketing is not the cure but it’s the ability to respond with the urgency of your almost annoying but cooler Facebook friend. A brand with no voice is like tweeting with no profile picture, it’s creepy when you see that guy.”

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