Virgin Media on avoiding ‘innovation for the sake of innovation’

Marketing director Amy Gilbert explains how the broadband firm ensures its marketing innovations are relevant, credible and connected to the brand.

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Innovation may be a buzzword increasingly popping up in a marketer’s list of objectives, but Virgin Media’s marketing director Amy Gilbert warns it can easily become little more than a “box ticking exercise”.

Marketers need to ensure any marketing innovation is closely in line with the brand’s overall strategy and delivers not only from a brand perspective, but a business perspective, she added.

Speaking at Advertising Week Europe yesterday (17 May), Gilbert said: “I don’t believe in innovation for the sake of innovation. Innovation has got to have a purpose and has got to drive the business forward beyond the status quo.”

The key is to ensure any innovation has “relevance”, she said: “That’s having real relevance to our business and what we do, having real relevance to our brand and what we stand for, and real relevance to our customers and what really matters to them.”

At Virgin Media O2, the company’s purpose is ‘reimagining connectivity’. For the Virgin Media brand, a core part of its brand strategy is to “humanise” technology by focusing on what connectivity enables and what it means to people, Gilbert explained.Coca-Cola marketers add innovation to ‘primary focus’

This mindset is also applied when using any technology or innovation as part of the brand’s marketing.

“It’s not about just the technology and positioning ourselves as really futuristic, but instead focusing on something people can really relate to and something that really matters to them,” Gilbert explained.

That’s not to suggest innovation isn’t a “really powerful tool” for Virgin Media, she added, claiming it is part of the very “DNA” of the Virgin brand.

“We absolutely want to be disruptive and cut through, particularly when we’ve got an increasingly sceptical audience,” she said. Indeed, Virgin Media’s campaign innovations in recent years have “really enhanced” its campaigns and driven “real impact”, she claimed.

For example, last year during the Covid-19 national lockdown Virgin Media launched the Two Hearts Pizzeria, bringing to life its brand campaign ‘Faster Brings Us Closer’. Diners of the pop-up experience in London and Edinburgh were able to eat a pizza together through hologram technology, powered by Virgin Media broadband, despite being 400 miles apart.


“The real success for us was having that very clear and credible role for Virgin Media, driving those human connections when people really needed it during the pandemic,” Gilbert said.

And on top of being an “incredible experience” for those people who got to experience it first hand, the innovation also “resonated” with a wider audience through social media channels.

“It was something people could really relate to at the time and it also wasn’t gimmicky. It was absolutely clear what the roll for Virgin Media was and it was at the heart of our brand story,” Gilbert said.

As a result, Virgin Media not only saw an improvement among people aware of the activation in their perception of the brand as innovative or having fast speeds, but also in the level of “positivity” around the brand.

“It really drove that brand connection, which for us is one of the key drivers of getting us in that consideration set,” she explained.

Navigating the metaverse

Turning towards opportunities in the metaverse, Gilbert believes there is a “huge opportunity” for Virgin Media as all virtual digital experiences are powered by broadband.

“We’ve got a credible role to play”, she said. “I think there’s also real opportunity in terms of the scale it presents. The number of interactions we can potentially have in the future with people in the virtual space is incredible.”Coca-Cola makes metaverse play with new innovation platform

But while there is lots of “potential” in the metaverse, no activation by Virgin Media can come at the expense of its strategy around human connections, Gilbert said.

Admitting it’s “probably easier” for tech brands like Virgin Media to find a place for innovations within their brand, Gilbert nonetheless said innovation has a role to play for all brands.

“Innovation is important to drive brand growth. You need to innovate to adapt to the changing landscape and, as we’ve seen over the last couple of years with the pandemic, to changing consumer expectations,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or what kind of brand you are. As long as you are staying relevant to the audience and relevant to you, and staying away from being gimmicky.”