Who You Calling Virgin?

Upstart low-cost airline Virgin America, the latest extension of Sir Richard Branson's brand empire, is running a Web-based promotion called "Name Our Planes" to get consumers to name the remaining 34 Airbus 320 planes that will make up its fleet.

This week, Virgin America unveiled its first plane at San Francisco International Airport and christened it "Jefferson Airplane" to honor the iconic Bay Area band and its initial route, between SF and New York's JFK.

Early entries on the nameourplanes.com Web site make references to other rock bands. They include Joan Jett, Big Ol Jet Airliner. San Francisco-referenced entries include Love-Ashbury, Don't Call It 'Frisco. Then there's an Americana theme building, as in Sea to Shining Sea and Pride of New York.

The Web site displays the names with a visual representation like airline route maps. Entrants are also organized by gender, astrological sign and favorite holiday.

Users can vote on the name they like most by clicking on a dot, and then clicking "fly" or "doesn't fly" beneath the proposed name. A running tally of votes is also shown. Entries will be judged for how well they meet the company's mission to create a pro-customer airline, as well as on originality, inspirational quotient and "smile value." Winners will be chosen by mid-January.



Once again, Virgin is showing its knack for marketing, considering the airline hasn't yet even received FAA approval to operate. "We're building an airline we hope people will love," said Spence Kramer, Virgin America's vice president of marketing, in a statement. "Name Our Planes is emblematic of just one way we'll seek to connect with other future guests every step of the way."

Virgin's consumer participation marketing extends to its other divisions as well. The Virgin Mobile division, which used celebrities to promote its text-messaging-for-a-penny plan, currently is running a charitable contribution promotion where customers send text messages for 99 cents, which is donated to the company's Unite charity--and get a chance to win a stay at Branson's private island in the British Virgin Islands.

Virgin America, headquartered in Burlingame, CA, hopes to gain FAA approval to begin service between SF and NY by Spring 2007. This will be Virgin's fourth airline launch. It runs the flagship Virgin Atlantic transatlantic carrier, as well as low-cost carriers in continental Europe and Australasia. Virgin Galactic, its consumer space initiative, is also in development.

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