Virgin Mobile Spoofs TV Genres

With a nod to low-budget ads and tacky talk shows, Virgin Mobile deals with the legal disclaimers of cell-phone ownership in unusual fashion in commercials airing now on MTV and VH1.

The effort, created by Leagas Delaney as part of a $40 million campaign, is tied to Virgin’s Party Animal phone, priced at $79 after a $20 activation rebate. The promo, targeted at teens and young adults, will run until Oct. 5.

The first ad shows Leagas copywriter Andrew Ault dressed in a gray linen suit, a wig and a fake mustache, playing an electric guitar and singing. The song, it turns out, is made up of lines from Virgin’s legal contract with consumers. The lyrics appear on the bottom of the screen, and a red ball bounces in time from word to word.

“The idea I was after was the way K-tel sold John Denver’s Greatest Hits,” said Vince Engel, creative director at Leagas in San Francisco. “Virgin was doing one of those offers, and we just had to do something wacky.”

The second ad opens with cheesy music introducing a mock talk show, The Rock Rochelle Show. During the show, the host asks about the $20 activation rebate, and the guest’s answers come directly from the legal disclaimer. Each time the camera pans back to the host, he is seen wearing increasingly bizarre costumes, including chef and pirate outfits.

“The same guy plays both [the guest and host] roles, and he is in a new absurd costume the whole time,” Engel said. “He was able to play the whole thing straight.”

Engel, who was also the art director on the spots, said the shop was given a list of legal copy to mention. “The copywriter figured if we really need to say this stuff … we’ll put all that boring legal copy in a new setting,” he said.

Agency president and managing director Wayne Buder said the ads intentionally steer clear of boasts about free airtime and unlimited long-distance calls. “The cell-phone industry is flooded with free air promotions, and it’s almost become like backwash for the consumer,” he said. “We tried to do something that wasn’t conventional but had an easy-to-understand offer.”

The client could not be reached for comment.

Virgin Mobile is based in San Francisco. It operates its cell-phone service through a partnership with Sprint.