Virgin: Sure, It’s a Great Masterbrand, but Let’s Not Forget Those Product Families

By Beth Gerber

April 14, 2011

In case you missed it, Virgin America is rolling out a new campaign supported by the tagline “Breath of Fresh Airline.”  The point is to draw attention all those wonderful Virgin amenities such as touch screen entertainment and signature cabin mood lighting (if you haven’t flown under a halo of purple and pink you really need to). It’s not an outlandishly creative tagline, but I kinda like it.

Got me thinking about the Virgin brand generally, how it’s become such an obvious example of a Masterbrand strategy, and how admirable a job the company’s done controlling and organizing its relatively sizable portfolio of names.

I rarely seem to come in contact with a non-airline Virgin brand, but of course there are many.   There’s a Virgin racing brand, a Virgin financial brand, a Virgin book brand, a Virgin health club brand, a Virgin gaming brand, and the list goes on.  Of course, as I indicated, they’re also in the business of flying people here and there, and they’ve got a few small brands focused on that service offering.  Perhaps you’ve bumped into them before also.

In almost every case, the company’s been diligent about assigning descriptive or highly suggestive names to its products and services–i.e., only very communicative names that don’t fight with or overshadow that supreme Virgin brand name. Their mobile business is Virgin Mobile (qualified by location, such as Virgin Mobile USA, France, India, etc.), their vacation planning business is Virgin Vacations, their wine business (yes, wine) is Virgin Wine, etc.  You get the point.  Very intuitive and always in deference to the Virgin Masterbrand.

Now, there are many companies that adopt a strong Masterbrand approach to their portfolios (Nike, Target, Sony, Mastercard, Google to name a few), but not all are successful at organizing their brand families.  Some are barely mindful of them at all!

In fact, a considerable amount of the naming strategy, naming protocol, and naming architecture work that Catchword has done over the years has been to help some large companies organize their brands into more intuitive families.  You see, while descriptive terms can go a long way toward providing clarity to a company’s portfolio of services, it’s just as important to organize those descriptive names into logical buckets.  Understanding how the brands relate to one another is no less important than understanding what each brand represents!

Take a look at the Virgin website sometime.  It’s so obvious how the various Virgin brands relate to one another because Virgin’s established a clear system of categories to encompass all of their brands.

“Travel” includes the airlines, the cruises, the vacation and related brands.
“Lifestyle” includes the wine, the health club, the gaming and related brands.
“Music” includes the Megastore, the radio, and the festivals brands.
The “Money”, “Media/Mobile”, and “People/Planet” categories include similarly logical Virgin brand assignments.

Just so neat.  Tidy.  Simple to understand and navigate.  Me like.

So, I think Virgin serves as a good example of responsible and persistent Masterbrand strategy, but it also reminds us of the importance of creating relationships between products in a portfolio, and organizing like products in an intuitive fashion.  This is true even when product names are highly communicative, such as Virgin’s brands, and even more critical when portfolios are comprised of less suggestive, more abstract product names.

Okay, switching to blue and gray now.  Getting sleepy.  Sleepy.  Sleep.  Slee.  Zzzzz.

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