How Virgin Limited Edition creates a playful brand

If you've ever visited a Virgin Limited Edition property, you may have met one of their friendly ducks. We caught up with Janet Hoolohan, group sales and marketing director, to find out more about how the ducks help to amplify their brand.

Let's start with the story of the ducks, where did they come from?

Janet: All of our marketing communication and collateral is created to be informative yet demonstrate each property’s personality. For us, it’s not just big product ideas but the little things which demonstrate personality; from fluffy St Bernard dog toys to pop outside your room instead of the traditional ‘do not disturb’ notices and a whole Toblerone bar at turn down at The Lodge instead of a simple chocolate, to our personalised rubber ducks for each property.

The key thing for us is attention to detail and we aim to surprise and delight our guests by taking the small touches and adding some charm to them.

What do the ducks say about your brand and why have they proven to be so popular?

Fun is 100 per cent at the heart of our brand values; it is a management style and a vital ingredient of daily life, and our ducks are just one way that we bring this to life.

One of the other key ways we do this is through our team, and we may be biased but they are second to none and they offer the highest level of service across the collection. We empower our staff to bring their personalities to work so they are able to engage with our guests in a friendly, human and relaxed but professional manner, something which definitely distinguishes us from other brands.

It’s not just our guests that enjoy our ducks, and they are always a hit at trade shows and client dinners around the world. No matter how old you are everyone absolutely loves receiving a duck! 

How do the ducks - playful and colourful as they are - work with the rest of the Virgin Limited Edition branding, which is more premium?

Barefoot-luxury is the name of the game and we’re all about creating retreats which differ from our competitors in their service, style and proposition; giving people something more than just a place to rest their head.

We work to create an environment that puts our guests instantly at ease, and operate our properties like a ‘home away from home’. This approach has allowed us to create an eclectic collection with each property having its own unique personality and soul. We’ve then taken those distinguishing features and put them in duck form; they too are eclectic and unique, each with their own special characteristics and feature – and of course they are fun!

Each Virgin Limited Edition property has its own look and feel. The challenge of course is to create a degree of consistency across the collection. So while each property has its own colour, logo, font, and indeed duck, once you’ve been to one property you really should start to see and recognise some of the similarities in the collection. 

How have you used the ducks to spread your brand message?

We launched the #GiveAFlyingDuck campaign in January and it was a real shake up in terms of online campaigns within the luxury travel industry.

The campaign centred around our ducks and dovetailed with the messaging of giving back, which is at the heart of all that we do. So we encouraged people who came across our ducks to snap a picture of them enjoying life out of the water and share it on Instagram. Then for every picture shared using #GiveAFlyingDuck Virgin Limited Edition gave back to the charities close to our hearts!

Our ducks journeyed far and wide, from meeting Christ the Redeemer in Brazil to partying at Coachella festival, playing in the snow in Vancouver and waddling on the Hollywood walk of fame! We were helped along the way with various Virgin companies participating; ducks were seen breaking a sweat in gyms, having a nap on trains and even floating high in the sky in hot air balloons.

The results were impressive and in the launch month we reached nearly 10million impressions on Twitter alone. One user actually created an account dedicated to the ducks (@howard_t_ducky) and to this day continues to post photos of Mahali Mzuri’s duck on its journey around the globe to more than 3,000 followers. 

What's one branding lesson you've learnt from your time at Virgin Limited Edition?

When we started out, our company name was originally Limited Edition by Virgin before we rebranded to Virgin Limited Edition in 2005. It was a very simple change, but the idea to prefix with the Virgin name obviously brought us into the family fold amongst our sister companies and helped enormously with online marketing, strengthening our identity and assisting in driving market awareness and credibility. This just serves to highlight that you can never underestimate the power of the Virgin brand!

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