Immediately underneath was the carefully leaked splash: 'Branson takes on Murdoch in media battle'.
Clearly, either Sir Richard or those people at The Sunday Telegraph are devilishly clever. Sponsored front pages open up a whole new vista in the commercial development of newspapers. You take the main reader offer and tie it in with a suitably relevant business leak and you get potentially double the impact.
The only slight danger is that the prospect of 55% off Virgin Atlantic flights will excite people so much that they turn immediately to page 32 and miss the Branson initiative on the front page.
Never mind, the offer is very instructive. In fact, it is a perfect template for anyone lacking experience in precisely how to pitch reader offers.
Somehow, between page one and page 32 the 'up to 55% off' mysteriously changes to 'save up to 46% on flights to America and Shanghai'. The 55% discount, it seems, had been on flights to the Caribbean, and that offer had been for readers of The Daily Telegraph the previous day. Sorry suckers. There are indeed flights to Boston with 46% off the current best price, but there is a bit of a disappointment for people wanting to travel to Shanghai.
Here, unfortunately, the discount drops to a mere 24%.
Only pedants would consider questioning whether the 'save up to 46% on flights to America and Shanghai' offer is entirely fair and not just a tiny bit misleading.
The real question is whether the 'Branson takes on Murdoch in media battle' headline also promises rather more than it delivers.
It all seems straightforward. Sir Richard folds his successful mobile phone company into cable group NTL. Brilliant. The cable company - and we know all about its reputation for marketing - will suddenly morph into a company called Virgin. Then it will be able to deliver the ultimate offering - quadruple play: mobile and fixed-line telephony, high-speed internet and television.
The next obvious step is to win Premiership football rights, and then in the battle between Branson and Murdoch, Sir Richard will emerge victorious.
By any standards it is a brilliant wheeze. Naturally the Virgin Mobile share price soared on confirmation of the plans, and Sir Richard will get to personally own about 14% of the 'Virgin' cable business. The cable boys will be able to shed their old skin and leave their historic reputation for poor service behind them.
Whether people will start flocking to cable because it is called Virgin is another matter. You can be certain that James Murdoch will not give up the Premiership rights without a fight, and if somebody else can offer rights across all four channels, you can be sure Murdoch will.
For all his success with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Mobile, the small print should record that Sir Richard's attempts to get into mainstream media have never been successful. He has either been outbid for licences or his business plans were judged to lack credibility. There have also been two failed attempts to win the National Lottery licence with his 'smoke and mirrors' People's Lottery. Inevitably there will be another attempt, probably with similar results.
And not even his battle with British Airways is the equivalent of going 10 rounds with Rupert Murdoch.
This one could turn out to be more of a 24% discount off flights to Shanghai than an utterly brilliant 55% off trips to the Caribbean.
30 SECONDS ON ... VIRGIN SPINOFFS
- Virgin Cosmetics, launched in 1997, offers a range of beauty products - skincare from Switzerland and make-up from Milan. Pre-tax profits reached just over £2m in the financial year ending March 2004.
- Virgin Vodka and Virgin Cola launched in 1994. After an initial peak to gain an 8% share of the UK market, Virgin Cola lost about £5m on revenues of £30m in 1997.
- In 2004, Virgin unveiled Virgin Galactic, a commercial spaceship company. It will operate a fleet of five craft at a price of about $200,000 a seat.
- Virgin Brides opened its flagship store in London in 1996 and another in Manchester in 2001. The London store has since closed.
- Award-winning Virgin Blue was launched in 2000. It operates 50 Boeing 737 aircraft and flies to 23 destinations across Australia, as well as six international destinations.
This article was first published on Marketing