Analysis: Weekly Web Watch - Volvo passes on expensive TV spots, uses online ads instead

Volvo might not be anywhere near the top of the car manufacturer list in terms of sales. But even for a company like Volvo, the launch of a new model is a big deal. If they get it wrong, if they fail to make the kind of impact that would normally be expected from a TV ad campaign costing tens of millions of dollars, then they'll be up the proverbial creek. That's why Volvo's decision to spend less than dollars 10 million on online advertising for the launch of its new S60 sedan is a big deal.

Volvo might not be anywhere near the top of the car manufacturer list in terms of sales. But even for a company like Volvo, the launch of a new model is a big deal. If they get it wrong, if they fail to make the kind of impact that would normally be expected from a TV ad campaign costing tens of millions of dollars, then they'll be up the proverbial creek. That's why Volvo's decision to spend less than dollars 10 million on online advertising for the launch of its new S60 sedan is a big deal.

Volvo might not be anywhere near the top of the car manufacturer list in terms of sales. But even for a company like Volvo, the launch of a new model is a big deal. If they get it wrong, if they fail to make the kind of impact that would normally be expected from a TV ad campaign costing tens of millions of dollars, then they'll be up the proverbial creek. That's why Volvo's decision to spend less than dollars 10 million on online advertising for the launch of its new S60 sedan is a big deal.

Volvo has formed an exclusive promotional deal with AOL as an alternative to a very crowded fall TV schedule, especially with the presidential election.

This is not the Internet as an add-on to a wider campaign. It's the Internet as the main play. And it ties in rather neatly with a new image the company is trying to build with the smaller, sportier sedan that is intended to reach beyond Volvo's traditional two-kids-and-a-Labrador-soccer-mom heartland.

It's all summed up rather neatly in the campaign's one-word slogan - ReVolvolution: change, a slight radical edge, while retaining those core Volvo values of solidity and safety.

And that's where things start to come just the tiniest bit unstuck.

To go with all this, you'd have expected the S60 Web site (www.revolvolution.com) to have just a little bit more impact, a little bit of the edge that will appeal to the younger demographic that is supposed to buy this new car.

Instead, we have copy like this: 'Turn off the music. Roll down the windows.

Feel the air in your hair and listen to the purr of the engine as you negotiate the new Volvo S60 through tight curves and the open road.' I didn't think it was possible to write this kind of thing anymore without some element of post-modern irony, some sense of quotation marks to show that that's not really what you mean. This site, however, is safer than a Volvo station wagon, and more boring.

Revolutions are never safe. And in fact Volvo's decision to eschew the usual movie-budget ad campaign in favor of an online launch is a radical one, though entirely logical given the current media landscape. It deserves to be talked about and closely watched, and it probably will be. But not as much as it could have been.

I expected there to be more of a talking point, something that would get people talking in bars, that would get the car noticed not just by ad industry and marketing journalists but also by writers for the style journals and grown-up adolescents' mags like Maxim. VW managed it with the new Beetle, where certain colors were available in a limited edition only with cars ordered online. A gimmick, sure, but enough to help fuel the publicity.

But with the S60, it's almost as if the company was scared to go all the way to meet the people it now wants to reach. For Volvo, stodgy has always been good. BNow it has to try to be unstodgy, even racy, but still have people make the association with 'safe' in the same thought. And what Volvo could have lost by going too far, or by having a technically advanced 'wow look at that' Web site that broke down a lot, would have been far more problematic than the potential gains. So it probably did the right thing.

But from a PR point of view, Volvo would have got a lot more mileage out of a brave decision if someone there had also been a bit more of a gambler.



Stovin Hayter is editor-in-chief of Revolution. He can be contacted at stovin.hayter@revolutionmagazine.com.



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