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
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
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.