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Neha Lidder Ganju

Marketing Manager-India | 17 Jul 2004

“Virgin is a young, innovative and fun brand. We offer different kinds of services like our upper class massage. The tagline in the campaign for this conveyed the message “let’s get physical”. One-liners in Virgin’s print ads like “Our Crew Talks Back”, “Ours is longer” or “We do it thrice a week” have created a discrete imagery of the brand.”

Promising to make flying a lifetime’s experience, Virgin Atlantic Airways and its mercurial founder Sir Richard Branson landed in India with much fanfare about four years ago. True to the spirit of the founder the brand worldwide has come to be known as the paradigm of free spirit and enterprise with a reputation for quality, fun and innovation. Neha Lidder Ganju, Marketing Manager-India, spoke to Ranjana Gupta of exchange4media about Virgin’s brand building exercise. She had started her career with Grey in 1997 and was part of the launch of SBI Credit cards (GE and SBI) as well as the launch of Aqua Fresh toothpaste. Her exposure to the ad world has proved more than handy in building the Virgin brand in India. Excerpts:

Q. After 9/11, to what extent has business from India been affected? Also, what is the outbound business that you are doing annually from India?

There was a slump in the travel industry after 9/11. However, in our case, even after 9/11, we ran a promotion by offering free tickets for a month after the mishap. Things have changed since then. At present, in Virgin’s case, the Delhi-London route is the busiest one. January to March is the peak season. The load is so much that a lot of passengers have to go via a third party. Indian travellers have responded and welcomed Virgin by choosing to fly with us. We had only two flights per week on the Delhi-London-Delhi route in the first three years of operations. The increasing demand followed by the Government’s temporary open-skies initiative gave Virgin further impetus to increase the number of flights to three on this route.

We had a 14 per cent share of the traffic with a seat load factor of 70 per cent in 2001, and 15 per cent market share with an increased load factor of 74 per cent in 2002. In February 2003 we registered a load factor of 96 per cent on the London-Delhi sector and 75 per cent on the Delhi-London sector.

Q. How lucrative is the Indian market for Virgin vis-a-vis other Asian markets?

In Asia we are present in Shanghai, Japan, Hong Kong and New Delhi. Since the inception of Virgin’s Indian operations we have been very excited about the Delhi route. The markets in Asia are quite different from each other. The needs of passengers are completely different and we have tailored our service to make the journey of each traveller a pleasant experience. India in particular has been a good market for us.

Q. There are very strong competitors like Lufthansa, Malaysian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, etc., vying for the Indian market. In such a scenario, how is Virgin shaping up?

Lufthansa, Malaysian and Singapore Airlines are flying to different routes. There is no direct competition in the routes per se. However, with the travel patterns of Indian consumers changing considerably we have seen a great jump in business.

Q. What is the brand USP of Virgin?

Virgin Atlantic’s USP is focus on customer service, with emphasis on value for money, quality, fun and innovation. The focus is customer driven and Virgin continues to establish and strengthen these values amongst its stakeholders, customers and travel trade partners, thereby consistently innovating and building on the strong foundation.

For a company like Virgin, branding is an essential tool of gaining mindshare across target customers. It is in the truest sense a marketing-led company that continues to emphasise on the inspirational value of the Virgin brand by way of continuous innovations both in services and products.

Q. What is special about Virgin as an airline and as a brand?

We are a young, innovative and fun brand. We offer different kinds of services like our upper class massage. The creatives for this were also done in a special manner and the tag line used conveyed the message “let’s get physical”. Hence, as a young and innovative brand we offer different services and promote these accordingly. All these make the brand a special one.

Q. What is the essence of the marketing strategy of your airline?

As I have said already, Virgin is a fun and quirky brand. The quirkiness of the brand has been well communicated in Delhi through a host of brand promotional activities and advertising campaigns that are out of the box. One-liners in Virgin’s print ads like “Our Crew Talks Back”, “Ours is longer” or “We do it thrice a week” have created a discrete imagery of the brand that cannot be ignored and is completely different and fun. Radio campaigns and press campaign are run on a regular basis. A TV campaign with Pooja Bhatt was aired at the time of launch. Besides this, we use the Internet and SMS too to promote our services.

Q. What is your ad budget for India?

McCann handles our creative account and as far as the budgets are concerned, each year we release four print ads along with radio campaigns. During the launch the budget was high but right now it’s not that much.

Q. Are you planning any new print or TV campaign?

Right now we don’t have any plans for a TV campaign. However, a print campaign will hit media by September.

Q. Do you have agents across the country for ticketing or is the operation outsourced? What margins do you offer them?

We have a general sales agent (GSA) called Interglobe. They are our partners and have 17 offices across the country. The agents work on a 7 per cent margin.

Q. What are Virgin’s future plans for the Indian market?

Right now we plan to increase our flights in the next few years. Last year we focused on building relationship; this year we are talking about our service; and in future we will add new services. To Indian consumers we have promised a lifetime’s experience during a Virgin flight.

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