Virgin Media's Nigel Gilbert on the brand's creative challenge

Virgin Media chief marketing officer Nigel Gilbert
Virgin Media chief marketing officer Nigel Gilbert

Nigel Gilbert, chief marketing officer at Virgin Media, cuts a more relaxed figure than when he was at Lloyds TSB.

It is hard to think of an item that would have seemed more out of place in Nigel Gilbert's old office at Lloyds Banking Group than a canvas featuring Sir Richard Branson's face superimposed upon an image of Che Guevara. Yet, here, at Virgin Media's headquarters in Covent Garden, London, it occupies pride of place on Gilbert's office wall.

Since joining the company as chief marketing officer at the start of the year, the former Lowe Group Asia-Pacific chairman has quickly stamped his authority on the brand. Virgin Media, too, seems to have had an impact on the 55-year-old.

The last time Marketing met Gilbert, more than three years ago, was a much more formal occasion in the glistening headquarters of Lloyds TSB in the City of London. The bank's acclaimed 'For the journey' campaign was in its infancy, and Gilbert was enjoying praise from all quarters for reviving a British institution. Yet, lurking around the corner was the credit crunch and Lloyds TSB's eventual merger with HBOS. Gilbert lasted only a year as chief marketing officer of the merged bank before leaving the business, a sequence of events he clearly still rues.

Challenge ahead

Today, Gilbert cuts an altogether more relaxed figure, having ditched City pinstripe for the open-collar, smart casual look. Leaning back, he expounds enthusiastically on the culture at Virgin Media, and his excitement at the challenge ahead - to take arguably Virgin's weakest brand and bring its marketing up to the standard of it Virgin stablemates.

'I'm genuinely having a ball, really enjoying it,' says Gilbert, who cut his teeth in the digital world while leading the Ericsson Mobile account for Y&R in the 90s. 'Coming out of banking, which is, in essence, static, here you have an incredibly dynamic business where there is still so much happening. The business really wasn't very well as NTL and Telewest; there was so much work to be done. Now, it is in rude health, and (that transition) has created a great dynamic.'

The shape of the marketing department was the first area to receive Gilbert's attention, with a fresh customer marketing organisation split into four parts. The commercial strategy division is now led by director Richard Guest; brand and marketing communications is overseen by executive director, and one-time Honda marketer, Jeff Dodds; the strategic customer insight team has director of strategic customer insights and 1-2-1 marketing, Michael Payne at its head; and a customer strategy and experience division is led by executive Marcus Banks.

'I wouldn't wish to be disparaging about what has come before, but the market is changing and we needed a more intelligent, integrated structure,' says Gilbert. 'It is less about pushing products into the market, and more about customer centricity, marketing toward our own people as well as prospects.'

Agency arrangements

Gilbert has also wasted little time reappraising Virgin Media's agency arrangements. Manning Gottlieb OMD and Goodstuff Communications were reappointed to the brand's £75m media planning and buying account in April after a review, but its creative account is now in the spotlight. DDB UK was appointed alongside Rapp in May 2010 by Gilbert's predecessor, Ashley Stockwell, with the aim of creating a more integrated approach to marketing. However, with the new four-pronged marketing department in place, Gilbert feels it is right to reappraise its agency relationships.

'I looked at the decision to bring in an integrated agency when we weren't very integrated ourselves. We've had a lot of success and produced some interesting work (with DDB), but I've built a team which I intend to be one of the best out there, and is deliberately customer-orientated and integrated. We don't need the agency to be integrated; we'll do that. I'm not known for making knee-jerk reactions, and this will be a rigorous process. It will be a long relationship with whoever wins,' he says.

A strong creative idea is needed to help Virgin Media compete in a combative sector. Gilbert is only too aware of the strengths of Sky - 'it has an enormous budget that dwarfs any in the country' - and BT, with its long-running 'Adam and Jane' ads. He believes he can replicate the long-running success of previous campaigns that he has overseen, such as Lloyds' 'For the journey' and HSBC's 'World's local bank'.

'Consistency and great creativity go hand-in-hand, whereas I have never really considered one-off ads to do the job. The big ideas last for years, decades even, if you get them right and occupy mind-space,' he explains. 'We need to do something that is profound and important to our customers, and will represent all the great things that Virgin is.'

Switching from tactical

For Gilbert, given the relative maturity of the pay-TV and broadband markets, the challenge for Virgin Media is switching from tactical, one-off customer acquisition pushes, to a strategy more in keeping with the ways of Virgin businesses. 'We need to grow through a different method: sustainable growth through customer advocacy. We are going to be more Virgin; we're going to love our customers, who in turn will advocate us. We're uniquely positioned to do it, because we're Virgin.'

In the short term, Gilbert's priority is to promote Virgin Media's latest TV service, TiVo, which offers customers vast storage space for recording shows.

The TV ads for TiVo star Marc Warren, the Hustle actor, who Gilbert describes as a 'cheeky but hopefully likeable face', a good representation of Virgin Media's 'witty' brand values.

An on-going print ad promotion, internally dubbed 'Brilliant as standard', is intended to remind Virgin Media customers of the services already available to them, such as free maintenance call-outs.

Gilbert also vows to keep up the pressure on Sky with targeted communications in the mould of its recent TiVo ad, which, at the time of the News of the World phone-hacking crisis, stated: 'Richard likes it, Rupert doesn't'. Throw in the odd live TV ad, such as the recent clip on Channel 4 to promote the V Festival, and you gain the impression of a brand not averse to having fun and taking some risks.

His marketing plan is not revolutionary - Gilbert is no Che Guevara-like figure. Instead, he has spotted a brand with significant potential, one of the biggest names in the Virgin stable, but in dire need of a fresh marketing approach. This is one journey Gilbert hopes to be able to complete.


  • 1980-1983: Media executive, Allen Brady and Marsh
  • 1983-1993: Media planner, rising to director of Europe, Collett Dickenson Pearce & Partners
  • 1993-1996: Managing director, senior vice-president, Dentsu, Young & Rubicam
  • 1996-1998: Account managing director, executive vice-president, Young & Rubicam
  • 1998-2006: Worldwide account director, rising to chief executive, Lowe Asia-Pacific
  • 2006-2008: Group marketing director, Lloyds TSB
  • 2008-2009: Chief marketing officer, Lloyds Banking Group
  • 2011-present: Chief marketing officer, Virgin Media


  • Hobbies: Skiing, music
  • Favourite brands: Apple and Porsche
  • Favourite gadget: Apple iPad
  • Favourite car: Porsche 993
  • Favourite destinations: New York and Hong Kong


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Oasis #springasmile digital campaign gets people doing good deeds
Coca-Cola: 'Don't approach bloggers with a fait accompli'
Tesco CMO Matt Atkinson: 'It is so important not to stereotype mothers'
McDonald's gives Ronald a new look ahead of global 'Fun times' social media push
In pictures: BrewDog opens first craft beer shop BottleDog for 'beer aficionados'
Facebook ad revenue leaps $1bn as it invests in targeting
Malteser or Maltesers? Mars takes Hershey trademark dispute to court
Apple Q2 profits top $10bn as iPhone sales soar
Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers