CAMPAIGNS: Cause-Related PR - Volvo races to aid the environment

Client: Volvo Cars of North America (Orange County, CA)

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: Volvo Ocean Race, Caribbean Conservation Corp.

Time Frame: September 2001 - ongoing

Budget: $40,000

Images of a Volvo barreling through snowdrifts does little for auto

sales in warm climates, so the Swedish carmaker introduced a series of

TV ads targeted at Southeast consumers. One of the more popular spots

featured a man and woman driving on a coastal road. They encounter a

stranded sea turtle; the man stops the car, and braves a tropical storm

to carry the turtle to the safety of the ocean.

That commercial marked the beginning of what became a major educational

and environmental initiative by Volvo and the Caribbean Conservation

Corporation (CCC).

Volvo received several letters praising the commercial's message, and

was especially pleased to point out that the turtle in the ad was an

animatronic model, not a real turtle. "Ever since I've worked for Volvo,

the environment has been prominent, especially with our cars' emission

controls, and even in the construction process," explains Chuck

Wilberger, Volvo's North American sales and marketing manager.

Volvo emphasized that point by showing the commercial at company events

and auto shows. It was at one such event in Hawaii where Wilberger and

his wife Tia (who the turtle was later named after), approached Volvo's

VP of marketing, and suggested that the turtle be put to good use. He

agreed, and charged them with finding the right organization to work



While the Wilbergers were researching causes related to turtle

conservation, Volvo began sponsoring the Volvo Ocean Race (formerly

known as the Whitbread).

"Volvo got involved mostly because of worldwide exposure," says

Wilberger, though he adds that Volvo also saw the race as an opportunity

to promote its education initiatives.

By the time the race was underway, the Wilbergers had contacted David

Godfrey of the CCC, which is dedicated to studying and preserving sea

turtles. The Wilbergers facilitated Volvo's donation of the animatronic

turtle (and a $10,000 display case) to the CCC, and in discussing

the Volvo Ocean Race with Godfrey, they discovered that part of the

racecourse is identical to turtle migration routes near Costa Rica.

This, they discovered, was the key to demonstrating Volvo's commitment

to education and the environment.


The first step was to link the websites for the CCC and the Volvo Ocean

Race, and show how the two are related. Then in early fall, about the

time that the turtles would begin migrating, Volvo sent four groups of

high school students to Costa Rica to attach satellite transmitters to

three turtles. To get media attention, Godfrey and Volvo both sent out

releases, with the CCC contacting the National Geographic Channel about

the students' journey to Costa Rica. A local camera crew was on hand to

cover the release of the first turtle, as was Volvo magazine, which is

automatically sent to Volvo owners.


About 30 minutes before the first turtle was to be released, Flight 11

struck the north tower of the World Trade Center. "A dignitary from the

US embassy was there to help with the release. Her cell phone rang, and

she gave me the news," recalls Godfrey.

For the sake of their work, the CCC and the students continued with

their plans by equipping the now Volvo-sponsored turtle they'd captured

the night before with a satellite transmitter, and releasing it into the


Unfortunately, the National Geographic camera crew that was scheduled to

cover the final day of catch-and-release work was stranded in the


And needless to say, news coverage for the next several days had little

to do with turtles.


From a PR perspective, all was not lost, as the Volvo Ocean Race has yet

to make its US pit stops. "When the race comes through Miami, it's a

whole week of celebrations," says Godfrey. "We'll be integral in Miami

and in Baltimore, mostly being visible to the public. We'll be set up

with our own tent, right next to Volvo. We'll be on hand to get people

excited about what we do, and we'll make Volvo look good."

Considering its escalating level of involvement, Volvo seems pleased

with that arrangement.

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