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Big Red ruffles feathers

No problem: Holden says its airship abides by "everything that is legal".

Holden's million-dollar airship annoys the AFL, Cricket Australia and the VRC

Holden logo24 Oct 2006


HOLDEN’S Big Red airship is ruffling more than a few feathers as it criss-crosses the country promoting the new $1 billion VE Commodore.

Designed to get the biggest bang for their marketing buck, Holden is positioning the airship – nicknamed Big Red – at every major sporting event over the next 12 months.

However, and many people are not amused, some even nicknaming the flying billboard the "Holden-burg", a reference to the ill-fated Hindenburg disaster in 1937, when the airship burst into flames, killing 36 people.

AFL executives were annoyed when the airship buzzed over last month’s Grand Final, which is backed by Toyota, in an ambush marketing move.

Cricket Australia is also hoping to stop the airship invading Ashes air space over summer on the back of Victorian Racing Club opposition during the popular Spring Racing Carnival.

However, the airship has been a hit at car events like the Bathurst 1000 car race and Indy car race on the Gold Coast last weekend.

Holden is also doing rural visits with the blimp and it will appear in every capital city.

It will soon appear above Melbourne for the Spring Racing Carnival and then the Classic Adelaide event.

Holden’s marketing director, John Elsworth, said the company had only received one complaint, from the VRC, which was concerned about the airship spooking horses and endangering jockeys. It wants a 1.5km exclusion zone for the craft.

However, Holden says it is being a good corporate citizen and had no issues with Air Services Australia, which controls airspace.

"We’re abiding by everything that is legal," Mr Elsworth said.

ASA has just granted Holden approval to fly at 1000 feet day or night.

 center imageLeft: Holden marketing director, John Elsworth.

Cricket Australia spokesman, Peter Young, said the airship had "toxic implications" for events like the Ashes, which has Ford sponsorship.

Privately most sporting organisations had widespread "revulsion" to the idea of the airship invading events, he said.

"We’re waiting to hear back from the Federal Government on their views," he said. Cricket Australia has also spoken to state governments about the protections they afford to other sports with "no-fly zones".

"Depending on the response we get we may, or may not, talk to Holden," Mr Young said.

Mr Young said Cricket Australia was also waiting to see how Holden responded to the VRC.

"The two concerns are safety and the principle that if major events can be ambushed like this it starts to undermine the viability of the staging major events," he said.

"We have a particular concern with our sport we’re a community owned not-for-profit organisation.

"We can’t afford to stage Test Cricket without the support of our sponsors.

"Even if we didn’t have a car sponsor, the issue of the value to sponsors being undermined by somebody sneaking a free ride is still a concern."Cricket Australia believes the Holden airship has significant implications for global sporting events as the organisers of major events elsewhere will look at Australia and say "why bother" if there are no safeguards for event sponsorships.

It is believed to be only the second time General Motors has allowed the use of an airship to advertising its product.

The Saturn Corp, a GM affiliate, in the United States, has used an airship for a similar publicity campaign.

GoAuto understands Holden has paid $US5 million for a 12 month lease.

However, Mr Elsworth would not confirm the exact cost, saying that it was "nowhere near" the $25 million fee suggested by some of Holden’s rivals.

"We were lucky that we just got in first and shipped it out here first," Mr Elsworth said.

The airship is owned by Florida-based company, The Lightship Group and based on US figures can cost about $10 million to lease over 12 months, with a television screen adding a further $1.5 million.

Mr Elsworth said the campaign had been effective and Holden would continue to track the airship’s impact over the period the company used it.

"From the first round of the research we’ve seen it’s been overwhelmingly good in terms of creating a more positive image for us and no negatives," he said.

Airship advertising is relatively new globally and Big Red is one of 17 similar blimps operated The Lightship Group around the world.

Big Red stretches 55m across and stands 17m tall, making it longer and taller than the current generation of Boeing 737 airplanes while the screen can be viewed up to 1km away.

It is filled with about five million litres of helium.

The screen is 21.3m wide and 9.1m tall, lit by 369,600 light emitting diodes and is designed specifically for viewing from ground level.

The airship requires a full-time team of 14 people to manage its take-offs and landings.

The Lightship Group is the world’s largest airship operator and has provided airship advertising and promotion programs for MetLife, Sanyo North America, Goodyear, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield and HP Hood.

Having the airship in Australia will also help The Lightship Group move into the Asian market. China is believed to be interested in using the mobile billboards.

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