South Africa: the reddest Virgin territory

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I first noticed the Virgin Atlantic Johannesburg run advertised on posters. The monochrome red stood out amongst all the freakish polychrome. The message was very simple, almost a public announcement: from 2 October Virgin would be flying to Johannesburg. The poster featured African wildlife - the kind you'd expect, ie giraffes - rendered almost graphic by the presentation.

It was both very direct and very designery - almost abstract. It appears to have transferred direct to the screen in the current series of commercials, meaning it remains unusually graphic, simple and confident. We have the same images, colouring and messages as the poster, but the wildlife - zebras, leopards and giraffes - move across the screen in a strange, almost animated way, to a background of jungle drumming, followed by a dose of Virgin livery and the on-screen announcement.

Given that advertising agencies are full of designers and design-fanciers, why don't we see more of this? Presumably because clients and agencies like to make what they see as full use of the medium - ie show-off films - using famous directors and spending real money.

These are short ads (just seconds) and probably quite cheap to make - an attractive computer effect overlaid on stock footage. The other great advantage of this approach is strong branding; a graphic style can be more distinctive than a filmic one. It allows you, for instance, to make the clients' livery central to the design. This ad couldn't be redder if it tried.

I think there is a dissident tendency among young creatives to try to make more graphic statements; there have been other sightings over the last year. But the problem with much of this work is that it looks too whimsical and retro - too much like the clever black-and-white Euro animations that filled the art-house cinema programmes in the 1960s. But the Virgin safari is stronger stuff, with the feel of Britpop rather than Hoffnung.