The creation of Virgin Media – a so-called ‘quadruple play’ business offering TV content, broadband, telephone services and mobile – has been a major three-into-one branding exercise for its managing director of brand Ashley Stockwell.
Unveiled last week in a fanfare of ‘V Day’ celebration, Virgin Media is the spawn of NTL Telewest (itself two amalgamated cable companies) and Virgin Mobile, and results from the £962m merger between the companies in July last year.
Stockwell, a Virgin man for 15 years, officially joined NTL Telewest in May 2006 to head up branding for the merged entity. Since then, he has been charged with a wholesale cultural, visual and strategic reconfiguration of the group to become Virgin Media. Working alongside managing director of marketing James Kydd, Stockwell drafted in a host of design consultancies to help create the ‘identity, look, feel and brand culture’ for the business.
‘NTL never really had a brand culture, although it did do some advertising. So we’ve had to create this culture across the whole organisation. And this is not just a corporate redesign – we’ve also been asking “Do we need this? Is there a better way of doing it?”,’ says Stockwell.
Preferring to work with smaller design consultancies, which can specialise, Stockwell appointed long-term Virgin collaborator Start Creative to create the corporate identity and its various applications. Brand environment specialist Household was brought in to overhaul the firm’s buildings and Integrity Design Management is managing the process, helping to apply Start Creative’s branding to different areas of the business, including the industrial design of signage and the livery of more than 5000 vehicles. Although working within the confines of the umbrella Virgin identity, Stockwell says that the business had a great deal of flexibility in the visual style it chose to adopt. ‘Although there are some rules around the Virgin signature, what we’ve done with graphics, photography and tone of voice are quite specific to us,’ he says.
As well as the corporate identity, Start Creative’s work encompasses internal communications packages, recruitment materials and the Virgin Media website at www.virginmedia.com.
However, one of the earliest applications of the brand was for the electronic programme guides to be used on Virgin TV. Although not a specialist screen design consultancy, Start Creative also created this EPG, adopting a simple, clean graphic approach that does not rely heavily on Virgin’s signature red – a colour that can ‘buzz’ on TV screens.
‘The EPG is a tough challenge as you are very restricted in what you can do. Also, any changes have to be uploaded as software to three or four million set-top boxes, which is why we started early,’ says Stockwell.
Household is overhauling more than 1000 buildings, over 150 of which contain working staff. It will spend ‘tens of millions of pounds’ on the refurbishment, says Stockwell. According to Household director Sarah Page, the consultancy has taken a ‘holistic approach’ across both offices and call centres, under a scheme dubbed Our Neighbourhood.
‘We had to get under the skin of the people who work in these call centres – which were not pleasant environments – and look at how we can humanise them. We needed to understand Virgin behaviour and ask how it can start making everyone’s lives better through their environments,’ says Page.
Virgin Media has set up three pilot offices and will fit-out the remainder over the next 18 months.
• Multimillion pound rebrand of NTL Telewest and Virgin Mobile spans corporate identity, office environments, on-line, EPGs, vehicle livery, communication material and copywriting
• A ‘quadruple play’ business spanning telephone services, broadband, mobile and TV
• Also owns NTL Telewest Business and Flextech Television