BrandMAX 2012: Celebs in ads 'blessing and curse' says Virgin's Larcombe

Richard Larcombe: director of advertising and sponsorship at Virgin Media
Richard Larcombe: director of advertising and sponsorship at Virgin Media

The use of celebrities in ad campaigns can be a "blessing and a curse", because it can be difficult to distinguish whether the celebrities are trying to promote themselves or the brand, according to Richard Larcombe, director of advertising and sponsorship at Virgin Media.

Speaking at Haymarket's BrandMAX, the Virgin Media executive said: "The use of celebrities can be a blessing and a curse, as often it's hard to know if they are promoting their brand or your brand."

Citing Virgin Media's strategy behind its much-trumpeted Usain Bolt campaign, which launched at the start of this year, Larcombe said it had been necessary to be disruptive in advertising its broadband offering, as consumers are generally apathetic towards the product and just see it as a pipe.

"In such a knife-fight of a market, the danger is everything becomes a bundle sale," he said. "Disruption allows us to punctuate the consciousness of consumers in a low interest category.

"Although we weren't an Olympic sponsor, we singed up Bolt, who is the worldwide face of the Olympics, and got it [the campaign] out there first. We can claim some glory for this."

Larcombe explained that unlike rivals BSkyB and BT, a call to action is "a really big deal" for Virgin Media, which does not have as big a marketing budget as its rivals.

A key challenge was also retaining consumer interest until the end of the commercial. He said Bolt's "finger wiggle", pointing to the Virgin Media URL helped it achieve this call to action.

He said the Virgin Media website has had two million visits since the start of the campaign. Meanwhile the number of Facebook fans it had tripled in the first six weeks of the campaign.

While Virgin Media dialled-up the success of the campaign, it has had many of its broadband speeds claims in its ads challenged by rivals BSkyB and BT and has had a number of them banned by the Advertising Standards Authority.

When questioned whether this was one of the pitfalls of creating a disruptive campaign, Larcombe said that the company did not plan to go into the market to get complaints.

He said: "One of challenges in the technological market, is it's hard to know where the boundaries are when you are pushing the boundaries."

He added that it works closely with its lawyers and takes advice on how to develop the campaigns.

Andrew Morley, UK and Ireland general manager at Motorola Mobility UK, admitted on stage later in the day that Motorola would have "loved" to use Usain Bolt in its advertising. He added that Virgin Media "nailed it in way that non-sponsors didn't manage to achieve".


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