Bare Assets


Virgin Mobile USA’s latest ad campaign may prove to be more than they bargained for. According to Virgin, their effort showcases a half-dozen actors individually describing the vulnerability one feels in making a gift choice. As they make their presentations, their only "clothing" is a small box containing the Virgin Mobile cell phone. Virgin argues that the campaign, themed "The gift with nothing to hide," is intended to underscore the simplicity of Virgin Mobile service. While other wireless carriers have binding contracts and sometimes complex plans of free and costly minutes, Virgin Mobile\'s prepaid service is "honest and simple," charged Howard Handler, chief marketing officer, Virgin Mobile USA (Cuneo).

In regard to the logos aspect of the argument, Virgin has established the 14-24 age sector as their campaign’s target market. As the saying suggests and the ads literally depict, sex sells. Handler claims Virgin Mobile\'s "pay as you go" service offers young people the cell-phone equivalent of a key to their own car vs. rival cell-phone family plans that are the equivalent of Dad handing over the family car keys (Cuneo). "The young market is where all the upside is," he said (Cuneo). Apparently Virgin has geared its provocative ad campaign to its intended audience, but with little or no regard to the rest of the viewing audience. For instance, the campaign has drawn controversy from parents and conservatives alike, which has resulted in vast negative exposure as well as an active petition to ban the stark campaign ads all together. However, prior to launching the campaign, Virgin more than likely expected such negative public response. Why you might ask? Strategy. Use the controversy to appeal to the target market. This point applies to the pathos aspect of the argument, in which Virgin aspires to appeal to the target market on an emotional level. For instance, many teens viewing a very attractive and predominately naked actor or actress will likely find that ad appealing. In the same way, the very controversy that Virgin assumingly incorporated into their sales strategy to stimulate sales growth may prove to be potentially counter-productive, as previously mentioned.

With an appeal to ethics in mind, or ethos, we examine Virgin’s controversial campaign. Virgin, known for the attention-getting tactics of its various brands and its leader, Richard Branson, said it is trying to stand out with the effort, which Handler called "full frontal wireless" (Cuneo). It allows Virgin Mobile to "strike at the heart of who we are," he said, noting that Virgin Mobile always is "cheeky and irreverent and playful and fun" (Cuneo). Some would charge that Virgin’s “cheeky fun” is nothing more than mainstream soft-core pornography. The question arises, is it ethical for Virgin to appeal to its intended target market with little or no regard to the remaining viewers? Virgin Mobile could have easily sought an alternative ad campaign that would have highlighted the company’s simplicity and “nothing to hide” appeal without stirring conflict. Yet, extreme efforts to stand out have resulted in negative exposure, which resulted in negative public response, which have resulted in modest gains.