CAMPAIGNS: Volvo, Ford play it safe for the press

PR Team: Volvo Cars North America (Orange County, CA), Ford (Detroit), and CooperKatz (New York) Campaign: Volvo Safety Concept Car Broadcast Media Tour Time Frame: May - July 2002 Budget: $156,500

PR Team: Volvo Cars North America (Orange County, CA), Ford (Detroit), and CooperKatz (New York) Campaign: Volvo Safety Concept Car Broadcast Media Tour Time Frame: May - July 2002 Budget: $156,500

Last year, Volvo felt the time was right to show off its Safety Concept Car (SCC) to reinforce its position as a leader in automotive safety. But the car wasn't drivable. By 2002, however, Volvo had invested $10 million in the SCC, and now had a drivable model with features such as a sensor that reads the driver's eye level and automatically adjusts the seat, pedals, and controls; video cameras in the door mirrors that show if another car is in the blind spot; headlights with infrared technology that detect people or objects on the road; see-through door posts; and more. Volvo saw this as an opportunity to not only reinforce its own safety message, but that of parent company Ford, which had also made a significant investment in the SCC. Strategy "Ford and Volvo wanted to explore how a project like this might work, and how both parties might benefit. The goal was not to create a safety-feature wish list that was so far in the future that the technology hasn't been created," explains Dan Johnston, product communications manager at Volvo. "It was to reinforce the brand image and the core values, with safety being one of those core values. If you ask people what they view as a safe brand, nine out of 10 say Volvo." Furthermore, Volvo also saw this is an opportunity to build hype surrounding its new SUV, the XC90. The car is considered to represent the next step in automotive safety, and essentially bridges the gap between Volvo's current models and the features that distinguish the SCC. "We created opportunities for people to write about the brand and the brand message," adds Johnston. Tactics CooperKatz developed the plan and logistics for bringing the SCC, the XC90, and spokesmen for Ford and Volvo to several major markets, where print and broadcast media were invited to take the SCC for a spin, and get an up-close look at the XC90. Both a Ford and Volvo spokesperson were available in each market, which allowed a balanced amount of coverage for each brand. "We enabled hosts to report live from behind the wheel of the Safety Concept Car," says Andrea Martone, media director at CooperKatz. "They could put their cameraman in the back seat, and viewers could see them driving this car, and get a sense of the technology that's probably going to be common in all automobiles in the next five years. You're getting in the car and going with them." The agency also provided b-roll showing, for example, what happens if someone were to step out in front of the car and into the road at night, or how one would see a child riding a bicycle behind the car as it pulls out of a driveway. "It really gave viewers the chance to experience the technology themselves," Martone explains. The XC90 was also on hand as the backdrop for each broadcast segment. "Putting those two together fit perfectly," Johnston explains, because among other features, the XC90 has a roll-stability control system that prevents it from overturning, as the media often points out about SUVs. "It was exciting," adds Martone, "because the consumers got to see what companies like Ford and Volvo are doing to keep them safe." Results The media tour picked up local and national coverage in each market, generating over 32 million impressions. CBS Marketwatch, CNBC's Squawk Box, Reuters, CNN, Tech TV, and Fox & Friends all ran stories, as did print outlets such as the Detroit News, The Washington Times, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and several others. The story also ran on AOL's welcome page, accounting for millions of impressions. Interestingly enough, the media was just as excited about the XC90 as about the SCC. So much so, in fact, that Johnston scrambled to put together a media day in San Francisco. "We invited broadcast media to the venue to try and overturn the XC90, and duplicate the test that Consumer Reports does," says Martone. "They were convinced that they could overturn this vehicle, and they couldn't do it, even going 65mph around a corner," says Martone. Future The event in San Francisco was so successful, Volvo is currently working on a seven-city tour for the XC90 in October, and will once again invite the media to take a shot at overturning the SUV. The success of the SCC tour also set a precedent for joint Ford-Volvo efforts, and the two plan to pool their resources for future efforts.

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