Opinion: It's time Virgin dropped its BA obsession

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By Steve Dunne, executive chairman of travel marketing consultancy Brighter Group

Whenever you ask someone to name an innovative company in the travel sector; to point to an organisation that unites the public and trade in admiration for its advertising and branding, one name always features – Virgin Atlantic.

And quite right too.

Over the years I’ve admired the irreverence of the brand and the sheer class of its staff. Virgin cabin crew, in their bright red uniforms, stand out in any airport anywhere in the world.

It’s remarkable how almost magical it seems when one sees a Virgin Atlantic crew walking towards you at an airport terminal.

Last week I sat with 280 delegates at UKInbound’s conference listening to Julie Southern, chief operating officer of Virgin Atlantic, addressing delegates.

I enjoyed her presentation on the airline. It was inspirational in telling the story of a brand that truly broke the mould of the aviation industry some 25 years ago.

It was also, in many places, a very funny presentation with its cheeky jibes against British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair and British Airways.

That’s right, British Airways. And that, as a marketer, was the slight nagging feeling that struck me as the presentation unfolded.

The number of references to British Airways in words and pictures during the presentation was surprisingly frequent. The references were tongue in cheek, sometimes lampooning, sometimes challenging. Either way, there seemed to be a lot of them.

And it got me thinking. It might be my imagination but whenever Virgin Atlantic communicates with the market the phrase “BA” is never far away.

It made me wonder if, under that self assured confidence that oozes through Virgin’s advertising, PR and branding, is there a bit of a corporate inferiority complex?

There shouldn’t be. They truly have achieved remarkable things in the aviation industry. They have lead and innovated in so many areas. But at every step, it seems, they take a sideswipe at BA.

Perhaps now though, it might be time to let it go and move on.

We can all understand and appreciate Richard Branson’s attitude towards BA. The two have history - there are many of us still in travel that understand and remember the sometimes personal rough and tumble between Branson and BA back in the 1980s. But the new generation of senior managers at Virgin Atlantic don’t have history.

There is a new generation of traveller now. In their mid twenties, that have no recollection of the history between the two. To them BA and Virgin are two super brands – and they’re British.

There could be an argument for saying that the constant references to BA by Virgin Atlantic may actually be undermining the airline’s message - an obsession that increasingly audiences will not understand.

The references may even start to undermine Virgin as a forward looking innovative brand, instead portraying it as one unsure of itself and constantly looking over its shoulder.

Maybe its time for Virgin Atlantic to let go of its BA obsession and move on. After all it doesn’t need it. Virgin Atlantic is a great brand in i