Start Creative's exciting identity for Virgin's new music download service harks back to Virgin's rock 'n' roll roots. But will this new image help Virgin win the battle against established music download giants?
Although the modern-day Virgin Group caters for a diverse range of interests - offering an airline, a train company, a high-street music chain and a mobile phone network, among other things - it's Virgin's association with music that has built its success.
The original Virgin was born as a discount record store in London in 1971, the brainchild of Richard Branson and Nik Powell. They then used the profits to create a music studio. The Virgin Records label was established just one year later.
Among the early signings was Mike Oldfield, whose Tubular Bells album stayed in the UK charts for a staggering 247 weeks. Thanks to the huge success of this album, Virgin rapidly expanded and soon signed a range of other iconic seventies bands, including Genesis and punk upstarts the Sex Pistols.
So, when Virgin recently decided to launch a brand new venture - an online music download service - it seemed particularly appropriate to return to the company's seventies psychedelic roots.
Virgin called upon creative agency Start Creative, which had previously worked on campaigns for other Virgin brands, including Virgin Mobile and Virgin Airlines, to work on both the offline and print aspects of the UK advertising campaign.
At the heart of the resulting campaign is a visual identity that, according to Martin Muir, Start Creative's creative director, aimed to "capture Virgin's musical heritage", using the slogan "Hear, Now" to accentuate the modernity of the download service.
One of the main sources of inspiration for the Virgin Digital identity was the original Virgin Records logo first designed by Roger Dean - now famous for the fantasy artwork he created for the ground-breaking album covers of prog-rockers Yes and Asia.
Start Creative called upon the design talents of Steve Wilson to create the illustration for the campaign. Wilson's previous work included design for dance music label Distinctive Records and MTV. He also worked with Muir on previous campaigns. "There's a real natural feel to [Muir's] work and he's really interested in rock 'n' roll design and tattoo art," he says.
The face, central to the new artwork, recalls the original girl used in the first Dean logo, which is then surrounded by ephemera of music in the digital age - photos and illustrations of record decks, electric guitars and images of passionate fans and tribal tattoos. Wilson revisited the idea of symmetry to create an illustration that is mirrored from right to left: "I normally work using Photoshop, but this piece was all done in Illustrator. I worked partly from photographs but the reflected imagery needed to be more stylised," he says.
The print adverts for the "Hear, Now" campaign will appear in major music magazines such as Mojo and Q as well as a range of point-of-sale displays in all Virgin Megastores. The online advertising for this web-based service, however, will be crucial to the campaign and banner ads alone won't be enough to sell the benefits of the service.
To solve this problem, Start Creative's digital team rose to the challenge of creating an innovative rich-media banner that will enable users to hear a selection of the tracks streamed directly from the Virgin Digital site. "The jukebox player is almost a website within a banner," says Julian Wild, Start Creative's digital director. "Virgin is a cutting-edge brand and we wanted the applications to reflect this. Although it's not the first banner to do this, what sets it apart is the intelligence in the way it is deployed.
"The main technical challenge in creating a banner controlled by XML was to allow for different music for a range of sites all through the same banner," Wild admits. The Virgin Digital banner will be sited at widely-used portals such as MSN and Kelkoo, as well as specialist music sites including NME, Q, Mojo and Kiss. To cater for varying musical tastes, the banner has been designed to stream music appropriate for each site's audience.
Virgin Digital is entering a marketplace where it will battle with well-established rivals such as iTunes and Napster, so a strong launch will be the key to its success. "Start's Digital team has given our online campaign an incredible presence," says Ashley Stockwell, Virgin Group brand marketing director. "The company has injected creative energy into both the design and the technology, exploiting the best of rich media to deliver new and innovative solutions."