LOS ANGELES -- After experimenting with the idea that Volvo could sell itself as stylish as well as safe, the automaker is returning to its safety-first message -- with a twist.
The company's advertising in the last three years has alternately emphasized safety and performance.
Now, seeking a balanced message, Volvo will air a sequence of TV commercials this month in the US to convey the idea that, "when you feel safe, you can do anything," said Thomas Andersson, Volvo executive vice president of marketing.
Volvo is in a Catch-22 when it comes to advertising its safety message, Andersson says. If Volvo sells itself as a savvy purchase with clever design, people forget about the safety angle and lump Volvo in with all the other European luxury brands.
But if Volvo plays up safety too much, "consumers won't even look at the new styling and just think it's the same old, boxy Volvo," Andersson said.
"There should always be something in there about safety. That wasn't clear when we launched the S60, which was more about performance and style," Andersson said.
Andersson hopes the two TV commercials in September will walk that fine line and increase brand awareness.
In the first spot, ocean divers are in a cage surrounded by sharks -- real sharks, as filmed this month off South Africa. As the camera pulls back, the cage is shown to have the same construction as the XC90. The cage morphs then into the actual vehicle.
The second spot shows a sky diver plunging earthward, his fall slowed by a parachute shaped like a S40 sedan.
"We're trying to say that if you are not secure, you cannot enjoy life to the fullest. These vehicles give people freedom," Andersson said. "We need to show Volvos are exciting because they are safe."
A recent report by marketing consultancy Millward Brown shows
80 percent of those surveyed made a connection between the Volvo brand and safety. No other luxury brand scored higher than 50 percent. The problem, Andersson says, is getting more people to notice Volvo in the first place.
Volvo in a bind
Volvo also is in a media-buying bind. With an annual advertising budget that has fluctuated between $60 million and $90 million (currently about E50 million to E75 million), Volvo spends the least -- in aggregate and per-vehicle-sold -- of any major luxury brand, Andersson says.
"With limited money, we have to make a bold statement," Anders-son said. "Having a small budget only works when you have a vehicle that draws people to the showroom. When that fades, you have to invest to get awareness and consideration."
Volvo plans to spread its fall ad buy across network series such as "Will and Grace" as well as major cable shows. The ads also will be modified so they can be used for regional advertising associations.