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Swirl Leaves Santa Behind

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Virgin Megastores Offers Up Its Own Holiday Vision
SAN FRANCISCO--Swirl gets trippy in a rather unconventional campaign for Virgin Megastores this holiday season, with ads implying that people exchange intangibles--love, peace, even chaos--when they give each other books, movies and music.
The estimated $5 million effort, Swirl's second major campaign this year for the Los Angeles-based client, rolled out in select national markets late last week. The work includes print, radio, TV, outdoor and in-store executions. The ads retain the tagline, "Something for all of you," that Swirl developed for the client earlier this year.
"There's more to the holidays than getting stuff," said Eric Roos, partner and director of account services and planning at Swirl, San Francisco. "There's so much going on around us--issues, emotions and so on."
To make that point, Swirl's TV spots depart from the usual sugarplums, reindeer and people giddy with holiday cheer. One 30-second spot shows scenes of war, angry protesters and police car pursuits, all set to a slow, haunting rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," sung by a woman with a high, ethereal voice.
The spot does include love scenes, but they too offer unexpected, even risquƒ images. One shows two men kissing passionately; another a naked man and woman lovingly lathering each other up with what appears to be whipped cream.
The images come and go as a kind of montage, with several on the screen at any one time. The screen as a whole is divided into a grid of identical squares, on which the images fade in and out. Words such as "giving," "receiving" and "love" float around the images, which appear in vivid colors, such as red, amber and green, giving the work a psychedelic air. At the end of the spot, a partially visible Virgin Megastores logo flickers on the squares, then disappears to reveal a smaller version of the logo and the tagline.
The agency's "objective for the campaign was to create a holiday salutation with a voice that is authentic to the Virgin Megastores brand," said Martin Lauber, Swirl partner and creative director.
The movies, books and CDs that Virgin Megastores sells aren't always intended to send positive messages, Lauber said, and often "challenge perceptions" and get people to "start looking at things differently," which is what the campaign intends to communicate.
The print and outdoor work offers textual collages around the words "give" and "receive." Lauber explained, "Say someone receives a jazz CD for Christmas. The sender gives not just a CD, but music that can be associated with history and sex."
The campaign, targeted primarily at 15- to 24-year-olds, is appearing in markets where Virgin Megastores has a presence, including Dallas, New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York and Miami. The TV spots will air on MTV and VH1, and on network TV in those markets.
Swirl expects to launch at least two major campaigns for Virgin Megastores during 1999, according to Lauber. The client could not be reached for comment at press time.
Virgin Megastores is a division of The Virgin Retail Group, which is owned by the Virgin Group in London.