Virgin Mobile Seeks Nontraditional Buying Options

Virgin Mobile’s decision to put its estimated $50 million media buying account into review comes at a time of intensifying competition among cell phone companies targeting the youth market. As such, the winner is expected to take a nontraditional approach to the account, sources said.

The three finalists making presentations late last week and early this week to the San Francisco client are: Palisades Media Group in Santa Monica, Calif.; Omnicom’s PHD, San Francisco and New York; and Pro Media, Natick, Mass., sources said. A decision is expected before Thanksgiving.

Sources said Virgin Mobile wants a highly creative approach to media buying and expects the winner to explore “alternatives” to prime-time buys, including niche cable programs and magazines that appeal to tech-savvy 18-34-year-olds, sources said.

“It’s a lifestyle product,” one source said. “You have to advertise in a very subliminal way. You don’t buy GRPs [gross rating points] on a show like Friends because it does well, but because it’s associated with people who are hip.”

The client, which launched service in June through a partnership with Sprint, worked with PMG on its fourth-quarter buy. Pro Media works with parent company Virgin Group’s travel agency arm, Virgin Vacations; PHD partners with Virgin Mobile’s creative and media planning shop, Leagas Delaney in San Francisco.

Virgin had discussions with the in-house ad unit of Minneapolis-based retail chain Best Buy about its buying, but those talks have ceased, sources said.

The review is being led by Leagas media director Megan Breuger and client vp of brand communication Brenda Ross. Representatives for the client, the agencies and Best Buy either did not return calls or declined comment.

Virgin’s approach to its review mirrors that of Boost Mobile, which used its creative and media planning shop, Team One in El Segundo, Calif., to help coordinate the buying review. Boost recently hired Carat in Los Angeles to handle its estimated $10-20 million buying account.