This is Volvo? Ads sell chic, not just safety

Some former Volvo commercials may have seemed like term papers on safety; the new ones try to convey a sense of emotional appeal.
LOS ANGELES — Volvo has long used its advertising to brag about safe, solid cars. Now the Swedish automaker wants to put the spotlight on cool-looking cars.

Stepping away from its long-standing marketing message, Volvo Cars of North America has begun to focus on stylish design and smart packaging in its advertising.

A trio of TV commercials for the S80 sedan, XC90 sport wagon and C70 convertible appeared briefly as part of the brand's March sales event. But consumers reacted so positively to the spots that Volvo has decided to make the campaign its mainstream advertising.

Rather than show cars in motion — or crashing, as Volvo has often done in the past — the new commercials depict vehicles at rest on an expanse of blond hardwood floor. The vehicles are approached leisurely by individuals who touch and dreamily caress them, sharing silent smiles. The Swedish folk group Melpo Mene supplies the background track: "I Adore You." The models look Scandinavian, but the commercials will be used only in the United States.

In an era of raw-edged advertising and the hard sell, there is a tenderness to the ads. The spots were created by Arnold Advertising of Boston and directed by Matthew Badger, who had produced successful campaigns for Target.

"The question was how to give Volvo a consistent look and feel, where the car is the star, but humanity interacts with the car, and there is desire," said John Maloney, vice president of marketing at Volvo Cars of North America.

Maloney said the spots will be used again for a summer sales event, with a different tag line, and background music by Swedish musician Nicolai Dunger. A commercial for the XC70 wagon will be shot as well.

Despite the early success of the campaign, Maloney said Volvo isn't through selling safety. But because safety traditionally scores below design, prestige and pride-of-ownership as reasons to buy luxury cars, Maloney says he felt Volvo needed to expand its reach. 

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com

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