Ad of the Day: Virgin America’s 6-Hour Preroll Ad Is Creepy, Warholian and Sort of Brilliant

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People have a hard time sitting through five seconds of pre-roll on YouTube. How will they react to almost six hours of it—much of which is intentionally, preposterously, stultifyingly boring?

Virgin America is about to find out.

The airline today breaks a curious new online campaign from ad agency Eleven in San Francisco. And the centerpiece is a strange, Warholian Web film depicting—in real time—the experience on a typical rival carrier (here it's called BLAH Airlines, and yes, it has a website) during a 5-hour-and-45-minute flight from Newark to San Francisco.

The passengers are mannequins—they're so bored, they can't even move a muscle. And indeed, BLAH is the antithesis of Virgin. The seats are cramped, the lighting is harsh, there's scant entertainment and no real food.

"The passengers have no choice but to be on 'autopilot' to get through the tedious journey," says Virgin. "Just trying to watch the video is downright painful—and that's the point. If you wouldn't sit through the entire film, why would you pay money to experience it in real life?"

Yes, the film is boring. But it's also quite fun to skip around and see just how the Eleven creatives filled all that dead air. (Alright, much of it is actually dead air.) The client and agency deserve a lot of credit for going with such a peculiar idea—and then really committing to the details, knowing almost no one will sit through the whole thing.

We reached out to Bryan Houlette, creative director on the Virgin America account at Eleven, and asked him a few questions about the creative process for the campaign.

Adweek: Where did the inspiration for this idea come from?

Bryan Houlette: Today, most of the options for flying—besides Virgin America—are pretty bland, lack personality and rarely have the latest in amenities. Yet people fly them because they're tied to mileage programs and feel like they have to. It's almost like they're traveling on autopilot—without realizing they don't have to get on that boring flight.

We wanted to recreate the feeling of what it's like to fly on autopilot and then remind people there's a better way to fly. So we created a film that shows what's it like when you're on a "blah" flight, from takeoff to landing. We called it BLAH Airlines flight 101, and we made it the length of an actual cross-country flight.

Was it weird creating such a large amount of intentionally boring content?

It was never really weird, but rather a challenge to see if we could also make it funny. And in the end, that's where all the fun happened. It was a nice mix of being really weird and comical, for a real long time. It's the kind of thing where you want to turn away, but you're oddly drawn into the boredom.

Do you expect the film to become a cult favorite of sorts?

Man, we hope this could become a cult favorite. It seems to have the right ingredients. Especially for the right audience. But you never really know, nor can you hold your breath. In the beginning, when we started shopping the idea around, we had a lot of really positive reactions to the idea. And that was a good sign, which made us think, maybe this could be something big.

The nice thing about doing the film as preroll is it gives the viewer the option to watch as much of it as they like before opting out. It will be interesting to see how that performs … and if there's someone out there who's willing to sit through 5 hours and 45 minutes of preroll. If so, we'd like to meet that person.


Client: Virgin America

Agency: Eleven Inc.

Chief Creative Officer: Mike McKay

Creative Director: Bryan Houlette

Senior Art Directors: Sarah Worthington, Bryan Houlette

Senior Copywriter: Aryan Aminzadeh

Copywriters: Jon Korn, Kevin X. Barth

Head of Integrated Production, Executive Producer: Anastacia Maggioncalda

Producer, Live Action: Lindsey Wood

Producers, Digital/Social: Michael Phillips, Amanda Punzalan

Activation Strategy Director: Fiona Su

Director of Social Media: Maura Tuohy

Director of Client Services: Rob Garnett

Account Management Supervisor: Lily Byrne

Account Manager: Meghan Kemp

Director: Shillick

Print Photography: JUCO

Print Post: DMAX

Executive Producer: Josh Ferrazzano

Producer: Bo Clancey

Directort of Photography: Peter Thompson

Video Postproduction, Sound Design: World War Seven

Editor: Kevin X. Barth

Visual Effects Artist: Sean Pfeiffer

Additional Visual Effects: Sean Addo

Colorist: Robert Crosby

Additional Editing: Penny Krueger, Nick Brown

Additional Sound Mixing: Matt Wood


@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.