“The tension in the room was unbelievable”: Virgin Holidays ad is broadcast live

We’re used to live TV these days, and the errors and pratfalls that can occur. But advertising is usually more of a controlled, slick machine. Which makes Virgin Holidays’ live ad all the more interesting. We talked to director Simon Ratigan about how it was done.

Virgin Holidays live ad

Creatively, the new Virgin Holidays spot isn’t massively new and exciting – it simply shows people enjoying holiday experiences around the world, from Dubai to Hawaii, San Francisco to South Africa. So what sets it apart is the live gimmick, which saw director Simon Ratigan key up short segments from 18 locations around the world in just 60 seconds. The spot played out during ITV’s X Factor show on Saturday night, and you can watch the finished film below:

“It was a hugely ambitious idea that had never been done before with so many cameras and such varied locations,” says Ratigan of the spot. “It was also a very simple idea and, like all simple ideas, it was going to be incredibly difficult to pull off. Not only were there a mountain of logistical and technical problems that needed solving, but it also required running castings, organising and briefing crews and carefully planning and blocking out whole scenes remotely from London, often over the phone or using just email. That in itself is nigh impossible, but to do it with 18 different units spread across a dozen different time zones with the aim of getting every piece of action to play out in a set order during a single 60 sec TV slot is an unbelievable task. It wasn’t perfect, but it was genuinely live, completely unique.”

Ratigan has no experience in live TV, so was taken somewhat out of his comfort zone with the experience. “Live is incredibly unforgiving,” he says. “Especially for those from the commercials world, directors, creatives and clients included, who are used to high levels of control and the safety net of an edit suite or post production house to rework and refine what goes to air. Live is the opposite. It’s about careful planning, preparation and rehearsal, not unlike a normal shoot, but when it comes to going on air, once the record button is pressed, there is no going back, no time for changes, for rethinking for fixing problems. In fact there’s not even time to think, 60 secs goes in a flash, especially when you’re cutting between shots every few seconds.”

Virgin Holidays live ad
Virgin Holidays live ad
Virgin Holidays live ad

Virgin Holidays provided a set of agreed holiday scenes to include in the spot and the finished piece does seem like a roll call of cities and places that many would like to tick off their bucket lists. Many of these verge on the predictable and, somewhat ironically, what makes the ad most appealing are both the whizz-bang bits – the water skier in Hawaii stands out – but also the scenes that are, well, a little average: the visitors to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge by boat, for example, who look cold and kind of bored, as sometimes happens on holiday. And the feed that cuts out from California is thrilling in its own way: it’s always fun when live TV goes wrong.

“The tension in the room was unbelievable,” says Ratigan of the broadcast moment, which took place at ITN Productions’ Master Control room in London. “There was a fair amount of noise from the gallery director and technicians, but the client, agency and production company people, including myself, were silent. There was nothing we could do except wait and watch.

“Everyone I knew seemed to be watching and they didn’t spot any of the mistakes other than the single lost feed,” he continues. “That was good, but for me it was more important that they didn’t question the fact that it was really live. The worst thing would have been to make a 60-second live commercial that was so tight, so perfect, so flawless that people didn’t believe it was actually live. We needed the uncontrolled, unexpected, randomness of life to give it energy and edge. This meant the odd glitch, a dropped feed and losing sound on one shot, but it kept it very real and unquestionably authentic – it was definitely the better for it.”

Agency: AMV BBDO
Creatives: Ant Nelson, Mike Sutherland
Agency producer: Anita Sasdy
Production company: HLA and ITN Productions
Head of commercials, ITN Productions: Adam Barnett
Executive producer, ITN Productions: Jemma Cassey
Executive producer, HLA: Mike Wells
Director: Simon Ratigan

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