Virgin “put a target on its back” with AFL stunt: What SMEs can learn from the social media backlash

Virgin “put a target on its back” with AFL stunt: What SMEs can learn from the social media backlash


Virgin Australia should have expected criticism from angry customers after it posted a video of one of its aircraft circling Melbourne in the shape of the AFL Premiership Cup yesterday afternoon, according to one social media expert.

To celebrate the AFL grand final, Virgin flew one of its A330 planes over Melbourne on Saturday afternoon in the shape of a giant trophy.

The stunt took 32 minutes to complete and involved as many as 43 turns.

Virgin took to social media to promote the stunt on Sunday, however, the airline’s posts have since copped a wave of criticism from people who say the flight was a waste of time and resources during such a busy period, according to Fairfax.


Yesterday, we created the largest AFL Premiership Cup in history by ‘drawing’ a 246km outline of the trophy over…

Posted by Virgin Australia on Saturday, October 3, 2015


“I would do that too if I was charging $3000 return to Perth,” joked one Facebook commenter.

“What a waste of money,” another person wrote.

However, the post has also received a lot of support, snapping up more than 7000 likes in less than 24 hours.

The Facebook post has also been shared more than 1300 times – a figure that far exceeds Virgin’s most recent Facebook updates.

Sean Callanan, co-founder of Chunky Media, told SmartCompany this morning Virgin made itself vulnerable to social media backlash by putting up the video at a time when many consumers are angry about airline prices and potential delays.

“Virgin are normally very good on the whole customer service side and on the forefront – if you tweet them something they’ll get back to you very quickly,” Callanan says.

“I guess the only thing is any time they’re doing something innovative or try and play around in that space they put a target on their back. During grand final week, airlines aren’t always the most favourite brands online and people were trying to get flights from Perth for the AFL or Cairns for the NRL.”

Callanan says conducting social media campaigns when many people are already annoyed at your brand clearly comes with a lot of risk.

“They [Virgin] are an AFL partner though, so it makes sense for them to do something on the big day,” he says.

“But it’s always a case where you’ve got to mitigate the risk as much as possible. Not everything you put out there is going to work, so you just have to keep trying new stuff all the time.”

Callanan says the lesson for small businesses is to keep experimenting on social media despite any potential hiccups that arise.

“The unusual things will go viral, but today is a new day and new content is required,” he says.  

SmartCompany contacted Virgin Australia but did not receive a response prior to publication.



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