Richard Branson on the “outlandish” way he marketed Virgin on a shoestring budget

Richard Branson

In the age of social media, marketing a business or startup on the cheap usually involves a Facebook or Twitter account, some content, and a lot of crossed fingers.

But when Richard Branson was launching Virgin Atlantic in 1984, the millions-strong audience of social media wasn’t easily available; the entrepreneur needed to work out other “crafty” ways to get his budding business noticed.

Detailing his marketing techniques in a recent blog post, Branson first touched on the importance of business owners using themselves as the face of their brand, saying doing so for Virgin “led me on many wild adventures and made my life much richer for it”.

“In the early days as we were building the brand we didn’t have the huge budget of our competitors to spend on PR so I got out there and found creative ways to build our name,” said Branson.

With the goal of both thinking big and being “canny with our budget”, Branson recalled how when it came to the launch of airline Virgin Atlantic, his company at the time could only afford one billboard.

“We put it up and told the press that it was going to be a massive nationwide media campaign,” he said.

“The reporters turned out in force and wrote all about the billboard — enough so that we never had to launch the massive campaign at all!”

As the business progressed, Virgin’s marketing techniques became more outlandish and were driven by a “desire to break records”, which Branson says has brought “great attention and admiration” for the brand over the years. All the while, Branson remained the face of the business.

“We’ve also enjoyed more outlandish adventures, such as sailing down the Thames on Silver Jubilee Day in 1977 to launch the Sex Pistols’ new single God Save the Queen. An infamous arrest and an even more infamous chart scandal later, and we had a hit that reinvigorated Virgin Records,” he said.

“In 1985 we attempted the fastest Atlantic Ocean crossing by boat, the Virgin Atlantic Challenger, capsized close to the finish line in British waters and we had to be rescued by the RAF. Not one to be deterred, we had another go in 1986 and smashed the record.”

Branson says he’s always happy to poke fun at himself as a leader and get involved, stressing to business owners the importance of not taking themselves too seriously.

“I always believe in taking the chance and saying yes — life is a lot more fun that way!” he said.

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