Virgin America Scores Points With Google Deal

In an example of a random reward that reflects well on the brand, Virgin America today (Tuesday) announced it will offer free Wi-Fi over the holidays from Google.

The deal, which was piloted for one-day on June 24 , runs from Nov. 10 through Jan. 15. Virgin rep Abby Lunardini said the airline, which began offering Wi-Fi on all its planes in May, typically charges between $5.95 and $12.95 for the service, depending on the length of the flight. Lunardini said that offering Wi-Fi is in line with the brand’s positioning, which promises the best in-flight entertainment and technology. In this case, fliers will be notified that Google is providing the service free and when those consumers log on, they will see an on-screen mention of Google as well.

In its Official Google Blog, Jeff Aguero, product marketing manager, positioned the giveaway as a present to consumers during the holidays. “Whether it’s using Gmail to confirm an airport pick up time with your brother, doing some last minute gift shopping for your niece on Google Product Search or searching for a good sweet potato pie recipe before touchdown — we hope this makes it a bit easier to stay connected with family and friends while you’re up in the air,” he wrote.

Lunardini said the intent is also to pleasantly surprise fliers with a free perk. That notion has been of growing interest in the marketing community. For instance, the hotel chain Hyatt has instituted a program called “Random acts of generosity” that rewards people who stay at the hotels with free, unexpected gifts.

Robert Palmtier, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Washington in Seattle, has studied that issue and said that it makes a lot of sense for Virgin America. “They’re able to put their name on everything from colas to airplanes because what they anchor their brand to is almost a state of mind,” he said. “It’s kind of fun.” But Palmtier said the tactic wouldn’t work for, say, an insurance company. “If you picked a brand that was a bit stodgy, free gifts are a bit trivial,” he said. “What makes this effective is the synergy of what the brand meaning or identity is.”

In another perk for Virgin, the announcement got significant online buzz from the announcement. At noon, “Virgin America,” was the most-searched term on Google News.