Diversity and acceptance are in the DNA of the Virgin brand, with ‘exclusive inclusivity’ being a central pillar that defines the group. Having long been associated with the LGBTQ+ community, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays wanted to celebrate a pinnacle moment in the Pride movement, 2019’s 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which coincided with World Pride in New York City.
It was essential that how they did so was both celebratory and meaningful and that the activation was something only Virgin could, or would, do.
The campaign needed to reinforce the brands’ commitment to diversity and inclusion both internally and externally, whilst positioning NYC – a key destination on Virgin’s network - as a welcoming and inclusive destination.
While celebrating the occasion, Virgin wanted a high impact campaign that would showcase its superiority in service and improve NPS scores.
The airline industry has a past littered with prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community, with one in three LGBTQ+ travellers experiencing discrimination, bigotry and abuse.
Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays have spent over 10 years bucking this trend by promoting diversity and acceptance in the travel industry, continually highlighting LGBTQ+ issues in travel to raise awareness and influence positive change.
At a time when ‘rainbow washing’ is a phrase commonly used to describe brands’ disingenuous Pride activity, what the movement did not need was more rainbow flag flying and hollow statements of support from corporations.
Instead, as a true ally, what Virgin was in a position to provide was long-standing, proven support and fundraising. Famed for throwing some of the business’ best parties, it could also provide a unique, participatory event for the community and its allies to celebrate the very best of queer culture. And, with its fleet of aircraft and hotel and tourism partners, it could get British Pride goers to New York in style, for the Pride party of a lifetime.
Given Virgin’s hard-earned position as an LGBTQ+ ally, NYC World Pride was a real opportunity for the brand to dominate the news agenda over its competitors, painting the city a distinctive Virgin red in a way that was both playful and purposeful.
Virgin Pride Flight – the world’s first specially chartered flight to celebrate queer culture at 30,000 feet, taking passengers direct from London to NYC to celebrate World Pride Stonewall50.
Partnering with allies Attitude Magazine and NYC & Co, the campaign was activated across two key phases.
Phase 1: Announcement and ticket sales
An announcement strategically timed nine months pre-flight and ahead of one the biggest nights in the LGBTQ+ calendar, the Attitude Awards – of which Virgin has been a lead sponsor for eight years.
The flight and ticket sales were announced with a piece of video content fronted by Broadway star and LGBTQ+ icon, Tituss Burgess, who was flanked by drag queens in cabin crew uniform as they stomped gloriously through an airport terminal. The hype for tickets was unprecedented and the plane sold out within hours.
The content was streamed at the awards with limited tickets made available on the night to the 500 influential members of the LGBTQ+ community in attendance.
Phase 2: Pride Flight
The flight was created to offer passengers an experience like no other. It was staffed entirely by LGBTQ+ pilots and crew and attended by a host of British LGBTQ+ celebrity ‘royalty’, activists who experienced the Stonewall Riots, influencers, journalists and a TV crew, as well as lucky ticket holders.
Guests were entertained by celebrity performances, including Sara Aalto, who sang the official London Pride song, and Tituss Burgess, who performed a rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. A host of drag queens ensured the party continued all the way to NYC and helped support on-board fundraising efforts, with raffle ticket sales and drag bingo!
Once on the ground press, celebrities and influencers were treated to an NYC Pride experience to remember with exclusive access to the Pride March and parties and a chance to learn more about the history of Stonewall.
The weekend culminated in another sky-high celebration with a party hosted by Sir Richard Branson at the One World Observatory.
Content and interviews were captured - on the tarmac, in the air and in NYC - and released to UK and US media and on social in real time to drive a steady stream of coverage and engagement across the entire weekend.
Across both phases of the campaign, total OTS was 646m, with 360 pieces of coverage.
With a constant stream of engaging and lively content captured over the Pride weekend, Virgin dominated share of voice in the news on both UK and US soil, with highlights including Good Morning Britain, The Sun, Metro, Mail Online, The guardian, The Daily Telegraph and CNN.
Attendees of note on the flight drove significant additional reach and engagement. Celebrity and influencers shared 115 posts over the Pride weekend, reaching up to 16 million followers across the globe and driving a total of 382,711 engagements.
Crucially, this social content worked hard for Virgin’s hotel partners too, with celebs and influencers showing gratitude for the top NYC establishments they stayed in.
Content on Virgin’s own social channels reached millions, with over 136 million content views across Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays’ Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter channels.
Across all editorial and social content, the Virgin brand remained front and centre, with exceptional key message delivery, reaffirming Virgin’s position as an LGBTQ+ champion while delivering on its promise to provide an unparalleled flight experience for passengers.
When passengers were surveyed, the Pride Flight ranked a perfect NPS score of 100 with customers hailing the fight as a “once in a lifetime experience” with “excellent” onboard entertainment and “AMAZING” crew. To take words from one satisfied customer, it was “the most wonderful flight ever”.
To top it off, the Virgin Pride Fight was an unprecedented commercial success, selling out in under three hours and making aviation history by becoming the fastest selling flight of all time. Following the World Pride weekend, web sales to New York City were up 22% year on year, demonstrating a commercial halo effect from the flight.
Virgin Pride Flight
The airline industry has a past littered with prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community. Flying the flag for inclusion and diversity is a huge part of Virgin Atlantic’s and Virgin Holidays’ purpose. This project was about going big on that purpose and commitment – and go big we did.