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Austin Powers' Libido Assures Names for Virgin

British airline carrier Virgin Atlantic partnered with the summer movie “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” with an online promotion to help build its database of prospects.

On Friday, the day the movie opened, Virgin staged an online promotion in which it awarded 1,000 free round-trip tickets to London from its departure cities in the United States. Despite the incongruity between the airline's name and the movie title, which includes a British sexual slang, Virgin expected the promotion to attract an attractive group of potential customers.

“Anyone who has any interest in any way, shape or form in London is someone we want to have at least an e-mail relationship with — if not more — if they turn out to be a good prospect,” said Sarah Buxton, director of marketing at Virgin, which is based in London but has a U.S. headquarters in Norwalk, CT.

The movie, which stars Michael Myers, is a parody of the British and American spy movies of the 1960s and is a sequel to the 1997 hit “Austin Powers.”

Virgin hoped to lure millions of visitors to its Web site by giving away 100 plane tickets every hour for 10 hours in an “e-game” promotion involving an on-screen slot machine at a special Web site, www.virginshaglantic.com. Visitors were asked to fill out a questionnaire designed to flag those potential customers who fly to Europe frequently or who otherwise might be prospective candidates for flying to Europe. Although the results of the promotion were not available, Buxton said the company was bracing for 5 million to 10 million visitors.

Virgin employs ongoing prospecting campaigns using both direct mail and online promotions, but last week's promotion was the largest event of its type the company has attempted, Buxton said. To advertise the event, the company ran full-page ads in the daily newspapers in each of the cities from which Virgin flies and in USA Today. In addition, it conducted an offline direct mail campaign to its database to promote the contest. Other tie-ins to the movie included the repainting of the Virgin logo on airplanes with a picture of Austin Powers and an interactive ad campaign that started earlier this month.

Buxton said the company would launch a customer acquisition process with the new names it collects through the campaign.

“We generally start with an e-mail relationship, and then we have a very strategic process that we go through as we communicate with them. Basically, we collect more data as we go,” said Buxton, who declined to reveal the size of the Virgin Atlantic database.

In addition to the British connection between the airline and the movie, the two also share a sense of humor.

“This is about having fun,” she said. “People don't want to be sold, they want to be amused — and using advertising and promotions to entertain consumers is a great way to break through the clutter and make sure that your messages are seen, heard and acted upon.”

The online ticket giveaway was part of a broader campaign tie-in to the movie, which is scheduled to run through July 29.

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