By Barry Janoff
July 2, 2013: Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin empire, enjoys having some fun when it comes to promoting the company's goods and services.
The latest case in point: A multimillion-dollar campaign breaking this week for Virgin Media's fiber optic broadband, which features track & field and Olympic athlete Usain Bolt with guest appearances by Sir Branson.
The multi-media effort, "Challenge Your Broadband," will air throughout the U.K. It arrives during a time when eyes of the sports world are on the All-England Club, host of the Wimbledon Grand Slam tournament.
Bolt has previously appeared in campaigns for Virgin Media, which said Bolt's appearance has helped to drive awareness and consumer sign-ups.
The campaign is anchored by two TV spots starring Bolt, aka the "world's fastest man." In the spots, Bolt is Virgin Media's broadband service — fast, efficient, always winning — but is challenged by Blot — short, slow and inefficient.
In "Race," Bolt and Blot are at the start of a race. "This is Virgin Media's super-fast fiber optic broadband," a voiceover says pif Bolt, "and this is regular broadband, out of shape." The scene cuts to the finish line, where a guy bed and a couple on their couch. "These people are about to download a film. Let's see which broadband is quicker. I wonder . . . "
The starting gun — held by Branson — then fires. "They're off . . . well, one of them is off," the voiceover observes as Bolt takes a huge lead and Blot is stuck at the starting line. "According to my legal team, four-times slower," he says of Blot.
Bolt, who has won six Olympic gold medals (three each in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012) reaches the couple in bed and hands them a film reel. "And there we have it," the voiceover exhalts. Meanwhile, Blot, huffing and puffing, can barely keep up. "Still going," chides the voiceover as the guy in bed awaits his film. "Challenge your broadband today." (See the full commercial here.)
In "Strength," Bolt easily lifts a barbell that has two people using Internet and mobile equipment seated on each side. "Virgin Media [is] handling all devices online at once. Very impressive."
We then see a shot of Branson as a judge, giving Bolt a thumb's up. But in the persona of Blot, "This is proving a pinch more difficult for regular broadband," who struggles to get the consumer-laden barbell off the ground.
A shot of Bolt being massaged and pamper comes with the explanation, "Maxing. Relaxing," And a shot of Blot: "Struggling."
Branson is seen again, sipping tea and playing with an electric train set. while consumer's are struggling with their devices being slowed by regular broadband. "Richard's making other plans they can't. Yep, nothing doing" when it comes to Blot. (See the full spot here.)
Support includes print, Internet and social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTUbe. A dedicated Web microsite allows visitors to "Challenge Your Broadband" by answering a series of questions, the answers to which move animated versions of Bolt and Blot around a race track. Of course, sponsor Virgin Media wins in a landslide. "Oh, dear, this is painful to watch," the voiceover says as Bolt wins and Blot wheezes his way to the finish line.
“Our new ads champion Virgin Media’s outstanding broadband services with super-fast legend Usain Bolt in the starring role," Richard Larcombe, director of advertising and sponsorship for Virgin Media, said in a statement. "We believe everyone should get the super-fast speeds they expect — like our customers do — so you can stream TV, download music, browse online and game to your heart’s content."
According to Larcombe, "This campaign takes a humorous look at the strength of Virgin Media’s fiber optic service but goes a step further by inviting people to put their own broadband to the test and see the benefits of Virgin Media broadband for themselves.”
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