Virgin Atlantic, which we still think of as Sir Richard Branson’s airline, has appointed American Airlines customer boss Craig Kreeger (left) as its new CEO. Kreeger succeeds the highly-regarded Steve Ridgway who has left after 27 years, in part because he thought Branson wasn’t paying him enough.
Kreeger is likely to be on rather more than Ridgway’s £300,000 or so but the big question is whether he will succeed in putting his own stamp on the airline, Branson’s baby, and its very Branson-style advertising.
A few years ago scarcely a week went by without a picture of Branson grabbing some pneumatic blonde, most famously Pamela Anderson, to demonstrate (somehow or other) Virgin’s status as a challenger brand. And he obviously liked blondes (being one himself).
Now in his seventh decade, Branson has cooled down a bit but Virgin’s advertising, through RKCR/Y&R still majors on totty. Really, they could be ads for any number of services.
Actually that’s not quite fair about the above, new opus from Virgin but you suspect that, if the company produced a cut-down version, the red shoes and skirts and the long legs would make the cut in full.
This approach has served Virgin pretty well over the years (essentially it nicked British Airways’ old slogan ‘we take more care of you’) but the company lost £80m last year and it’s being squeezed at Heathrow by the alliance between BA and American Airlines (Kreeger’s old company) which controls 60 per cent of the slots.
Virgin Atlantic now has a new 49 per cent shareholder, Delta Air Lines, in place of former sleeping partner Singapore Airlines. But Delta is likely to be far more wide-awake about its £224m shareholding and Virgin’s strategy. Delta’s influence is surely shown in the choice of an American to succeed Ridgeway rather than an internal Brit candidate.
In the past Virgin’s ads have always needed the seal of approval from the boss to make it through, whatever the CEO or marketing director thought. That may change under Kreeger (with help from Delta). Virgin Atlantic needs to become more competitive, as well as better-looking than the competition.