Sunday, 19 May 2013

Coffee, Tea or Richard Branson, Anyone? OK, But No Orange Juice, Tony Fernandes Insists!

Loving this CNN picture with its tongue-in-cheek caption!

Exactly a year ago, I blogged about two very savvy marketeers and my all-time favourite CEOs, Virgin boss Richard Branson and Air Asia boss Tony Fernandes.  Richard had by then lost a bet to Tony. 

I did wonder when (not if) Richard would eventually get down to shaving his legs and cross-dressing as an AirAsia stewardess, when the Virgin racing team lost to AirAsia's Lotus team in the 2010 Grand Prix.

Count down to May 2013.

(Photo: Hairy stewardesses are not allowed; 
Richard Branson gets his legs shaven before starting his duty as an 
Air Asia stewardess 
Long delayed from a 2011 ski injury, the Virgin boss finally delivered on his word. "I've always said I'm a man of my word and I'm happy to have finally honoured the bet," claims Richard.

Seeing the Virgin boss dressed in drag on TV is not exactly unusual given his penchant for drawing attention. But when the affable yet shrewd businessman appeared  more times than I could count on the same day, something's definitely cooking.

Images of a mischievous and smiling Richard dressed as an AirAsia stewardess aired on major news networks, Twitter and online chats one day, spilling onto the pages of newspapers and tabloids worldwide the next. Whether greeting passengers or cheekily tripping a food tray onto his rival and billionaire friend Tony Fernandes, the trademark Branson charm was turned on full blast. 

A fishnet stockinged, still bearded Richard Branson gamely sported false eyelashes, bright red lipstick, a red skirt suit and high heels which he traded for flat pumps inflight. Hands clapped as the bearded star on AirAsia X charity flight from Perth to Kuala Lumpur performed a safety demo and cameras flashed as he served passengers their meals.

From a PR perspective, Richard the global brand phenomena got more out of the publicity stunt for Air Asia than any paid advertisement could. If you count the dollar value from the worldwide publicity gained for the two brands, my guess is it would be enough for a downpayment on a condominium unit somewhere in land-scarce Singapore!

There's nothing quite like brand Branson - and an equally sporting Tony - to spice things up mid-air. Known for his sporting sense of humour, at one point while serving Tony, Richard cheekily ignored Tony's "don't you dare..." warning and "accidentally" spilt orange juice onto his lap. 

 "I could have killed him," Tony (seated) said. "I should have realised. He had his tray and was standing right in front of me. I looked into his eyes and thought, 'oh no, he's going to do it', and he did." 



International news networks, newspapers, wire services and online media had a field day running teasing headlines, videos and photos of the event. From Singapore and Malaysia, across Asia and the Atlantic to Europe and America, the Who's Who of media brands including CNN, BBC, The Huffington Post, TIME magazine  The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Australian, Malaysian Insider, Singapore's Channel NewsAsia and The Straits Times, and social media platforms Youtube and Twitter spilt the juice on the CEOs' inflight antics.

"I am a great believer about throwing myself into life and having a bit of fun and making sure everyone has a laugh."
Few would take Richard seriously when he told journalists, tongue-in-cheek at a press conference, that he "always wanted to be an air stewardess". To which Tony laughingly told reporters, when asked to rate his rival and former boss, "Rubbish. Out of 10, maybe 1 for a bit of humour".
While Richard's Air Asia stunt stole the show that week, few outside Singapore would have been in interested in other news he announced on a side trip to  the city-state. Riding on still-fresh media interest in the stunt for Air Asia, he announced that Singapore is the first stop in Asia for his Virgin Active fitness chain, due to open in July. 

While in Singapore, Richard also granted interviews and steered attention to another of his pet projects, Virgin Galactic, geared to spearhead space tourism by the year-end. Speaking to reporters attending a summit organised by the Carbon War Room, an environmental charity organisation he founded in 2009, he was quick to address cynics on the subject of air pollution from his space tourism venture.
(Photo: Yahoo! News Singapore) Richard Branson on top of Marina Bay Sands

"We have reduced the (carbon emission) cost of somebody going into space from something like two weeks of New York's electricity less than the cost of an economy round-trip from Singapore to London," reported Channel NewsAsia. 

Great quote, but whether you accept his words that space tourism will not hurt the environment much, is subject for a longer discourse. Not one to waste time, he quickly grabbed the chance to promote the Virgin brand right after pulling off the AirAsia stunt for his pal Tony.

May 2013 must have been a memorable month especially for the flight crew of AirAsia  X charity flight from Perth to KL. Richard Branson came and went, not only raising funds for a charity in Australia, but also earning tonnes of publicity and awareness for AirAsia.  

Tony and Richard - best pals and business rivals
While all was done in good fun and for a good cause, it couldn't have been easy for the man-of-the-hour himself. The false eyelashes alone must have weighed a tonne, never mind the killer heels and short, tight skirt and the associated pressures of putting on a good show. And for all his show-and-tell of a fun-loving guy with the shy and awkward persona, Richard is one of the most astute business leaders who takes his reputation as seriously as his fun. 

Anik Raghubanshi said it well in an AirAsia Facebook post, "Salute to you Sir Richard Branson!!! It really takes a lot of courage to do this. In the real world, few corporate tycoons would dare do this. You always stand out. Love n respect u. Love u AirAsia too. You guys are awesome.

I couldn't agree more. Kudos to Richard and Tony.  Since my post of May 2012, I have flown AirAsia and can't complain about the counter service and in-flight hospitality. I have yet to try Virgin and look forward to my maiden flight.

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