Virgin Mobile Gives Times Square the Full Monty
New wireless carrier Virgin Mobile stopped at nothing to shut down New York’s famous intersection last summer to announce its U.S. launch. The huge “Nothing to Hide” billboard draped over the Virgin Megastore gave a hint that something was up, and the crowd started forming an hour before the 10:30 a.m event began.
When the time came, police blockades flipped into the street, traffic froze, and 40 “red people” wearing red unitards (with wireless phones stitched to their rears) ran into the street. Six officers were raised up on a scissor lift as music started playing. The crowd went wild as the officers stripped off their uniforms, revealed themselves as cast members of Broadway’s The Full Monty, and proceeded to belt out “Let It Go” in their thongs.
From the roof of the Bertelsmann building emerged Sir Richard Branson, also dressed in a police uniform (with a faux muscle suit underneath), lowered toward the ground on a phone. Off came the shirt and pants, and Branson kicked like a Rockette in his thong as confetti cannons went off. “We like to make a splash,” says Virgin Mobile manager of events and sponsorships Laura Jordan. “Richard Branson is very open to these types of things.”
The stunt, developed to show America that Virgin “had nothing to hide” (no roaming charges, no fees) may have lasted only 7.5 minutes. But it had U.S. Concepts working around the clock for five weeks. Street activity and special event permits were applied for, then approved by the city. Next came engineering-related inspections and permits, as one 100-ton crane had to lift another 56,000-pound crane (which would lower Sir Richard) onto the roof of the building. The structure’s support beams were then stress-tested to ensure they could hold the crane, and its passenger.
Dry rehearsals matched against a stopwatch ran from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. that day. Forty minutes before the event, the city called in a change: NYC brass wanted the Monty cast members to sing on a lift, not in the middle of the closed street (Broadway between 45th and 46th) as originally planned. “The city didn’t want it to look like Times Square was being shut down,” says US Concepts vp Tom Webster. “Although that’s essentially what we did.”
Twenty million media mentions can’t be wrong, including 150 from the top dogs (think CNN, USA Today, Boston Globe, CBS Early Show). Branson admitted he’d been trying to eat light for two months in an attempt to get lean for his nude review, “but they took one look at me and said ‘we’ll put you in a body suit,’” he said.