For every company that is effectively responding to the dramatic changes taking place in the contemporary marketplace--changes that I describe in depth in the first half of Connecting With Consumers--there are probably 50 other companies that just don't get it. Add Virgin Radio to that latter group. How many ways can you say that 'clever' doesn't necessarily equate with 'smart'?  Well, Virgin Radio's latest campaign ('Ne Viellissez Pas Trop Vite' or 'Don't Grow Old Too Fast', with the signature, 'Virgin Radio Staying Cool'), created by the French agency Hémisphère Droit, is a good example of how an apparently clever effort to communicate with one's target segment can effectively disconnect with the rest of the world.

Rationalize this campaign any way you choose--e.g., one should stay young at heart even though the wrinkles are beginning to appear on the outside--this is pure and simple, a tasteless campaign.  Accuse me of being a decrepit and cantankerous old fogy--I've been called worse--but when I saw the image below displayed prominently on the glass of a bus

stop shelter the other day, my first thought was, how clever, Virgin wants us to know how distasteful it is to age (as if the aging process can be stopped) and how listening to Virgin Radio (which plays, by the way, music by persons much older than those suggested in their poster campaign - see below) can help you stay young!  What we see in the posters, of course, are not aged music enthusiasts, but young, presumably attractive models photoshopped to appear old looking.  Wouldn't this campaign have made more sense if Virgin had simply depicted some actual seniors who happen to be listener fans of Virign Radio (or musicians, like the wrinkly Higelin, Lou, Patty, and Jane), with a tagline along the lines of, 'aging isn't so bad after all--I get to keep my rock 'n roll'? 


Okay, you can argue that seniors are not exactly Virgin Radio's core audience, but such an alternative message would suggest an open-minded inclusiveness.  The famous advertising practitioner David Ogilvy once warned to never make fun of consumers in your campaign, or to suggest that you are so much smarter, clever, and savvy than the persons you hope to attract.  Want to see what I mean?  Check out these images from Richter 7's (US) commercials for the Sonic Scrubber, a high-powered household cleaning tool, which suggest that consumers are so stupid they will mistake the tool for a toothbrush.

Better is Evian's 'Baby Inside' campaign (BETC Euro RSCG Paris), featuring artwork by fashion photographer Nathaniel Goldberg, a logical extension of the Evian baby videos.  At last March's Marketing 2.0 conference at ESCP Europe, Michael Aidan, Evian Global Brand Director at Danone Waters, explained that the Evian campaign (the viral videos, the t-shirts, and the forthcoming online 'how young are you' pop quiz) have proved enormously successful for the company, having boosted all brand attributes (health, purity, etc.), visibility, and brand preference.  The 'drinking Evian makes you feel young' theme was reinforced by each communication.

I must admit, I think it'd be a bit weird to be walking around wearing one of those baby t-shirts, but Evian's campaign effectively conveys its message without alienating aging consumers--and there are quite a few of us worldwide and our segment is growing every day--who actually still do feel young inside. Another good example is Snicker's 'It's what you would want' campaign from a couple years back, which I won't get into here because I think I've made my point.  The point is pretty simple: if you want to connect with consumers, you have to respect them first.

Before checking out, I should add that last week, Clichy's PS mayor Gilles Catoire officially banned Virgin's
posters from his town.  In Catoire's view, the campaign suggests that aging is a disease, a message that he believes does not fit well with the 'inter-generational equity' of his constituency. Quoted in Le Parisian, HD's Virgin Radio campaign creator Franck Tapiro contended, 'The aim of this campaign is definitely not to put young and old in opposition. Quite the contrary. It just says that to stay young at heart, just listen to music" (translated from the French). I can't say I abide Catoire's act of censorship, but I can see the folks at Hémisphère Droit rejoicing his decision, revelling in the publicity that further demonstrates what artistic rebels they must think they are.