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Digitas Replaces N.Y. Shops on VLC

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BOSTON Virgin Life Care, the new fitness and wellness offshoot of Virgin, has done a 180-degree turn and let go two MDC Partners-backed shops it hired last month. To replace them, the client has contracted independent Digitas here to handle the brand's launch in early 2006, sources said.

In late July the Wellesley, Mass.-based client tapped Cliff Freeman and Partners and Dotglu, both in New York, to handle brand and interactive advertising chores, respectively. But after VLC's creative services liaison Martha Hooper left the project, the client re-examined the pitches and opted to consolidate the duties at Digitas instead, according to sources.

VLC has not finalized its marketing budget, but did note at the launch of the review that interactive efforts would be front and center in the upcoming campaign. In 2004, Virgin spent $27 million on ads for all of its brands in the U.S., per TNS Media Intelligence.

Neither the agencies involved nor the client returned calls. Originally, VLC had planned to tap three separate agencies to handle the advertising, direct and public relations surrounding the launch of the new brand.

The new company, which Virgin formed in partnership with health benefits company Humana, is a "Virgin-branded and Humana-administered individual health insurance product tied to Virgin's health and fitness reward program—the beginning of a long-term partnership," according to a May statement from the companies.

"With the development of our new company, Virgin Life Care, we believe that we can offer consumers great innovative products and services, at the right prices," said Sir Richard Branson, in a statement. "Virgin Life Care will help our customers get a better deal from health insurers while monitoring and improving their own fitness. With this healthcare alliance with Humana, we'll give customers the value they've been asking for."