“No fireworks for Van Damme”

“Imagine a person standing on the rear view mirrors between two new Volvo FMs. The camera zooms out. The trucks reverse smoothly and in perfect synchrony while slowly moving apart. As the trucks part, the person slides down into an epic split. The man standing on the mirrors is Jean Claude Van Damme.”

It is a Tuesday morning in April. The coffee from the machine tastes – unsurprisingly – much the same as yesterday. We are sitting is a fairly boring and impersonal conference room. But despite the sleepy faces, there is an air of anticipation. We are about to be presented with an “awesome idea…” by one of the creative experts from our advertising agency “… which could become as successful as the Ballerina Stunt”. (The Ballerina Stunt was part of the FH launch in August 2012, and the first video in the live test campaign.) “Yeah right… good luck,” I thought – out loud.

Faith Dickey’s balancing act between two moving Volvo trucks was an unprecedented success for us. The Ballerina Stunt was covered by media worldwide and had more than seven million YouTube viewings. We succeeded in getting a truck video across to the general public without any traditional advertising – a unique achievement. Meanwhile, truck enthusiasts were fascinated by the new FH and its outstanding stability and precision. It was the result of an innovative long-term communication strategy. Now we were planning more launches and more creative videos.

Today’s media landscape offers opportunities to reach a wide global audience in a smart, cost-effective way. In order to go viral, a video must have engaging content – something that motivates people to share it. But good content is not enough; to gain momentum, it also needs to be published on platforms with a lot of readers, viewers or followers. Our challenge was to achieve this without spending money on Super Bowl publicity or other expensive advertising space. Instead, we aimed to earn space in the media and with influential online promoters. This requires strong news value and a lot of work spreading the videos.

Competition for online attention is extremely tough. We are vying with Lady Gaga and crazy kittens to promote a truck – not exactly a household product. The million dollar question is: how do you create a video about a new product, that is relevant for both truckers and the general public and also exciting and unique enough to induce viewers to share it and media to cover it? You can’t play it safe in the new and ever-changing media landscape. To win you have to be bold, try things out, sometimes take risks to achieve long-term success. We can’t predict what will go viral, but we can increase our chances and help luck along.

The creative advertiser had good reason to be excited before that morning’s presentation. The real question was whether we dared take a chance on the idea. The presentation was followed by silence – a few microseconds longer than usual. The Epic Split certainly had strong viral potential, but how does an ageing martial arts actor with his ups and downs tie in with our innovative brand? I admit I had my doubts. Discussion followed. Not all publicity is good publicity. But with a little humour it can work. My colleagues were more optimistic. You have to dare to win. Let’s go for it! The result was pretty good – even though the video didn’t end with “spectacular fireworks as the trucks slowly reverse into the sunset” as we were promised that Tuesday morning over weak coffee.


Per Nilsson
Director Public Relations, Volvo Trucks


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