How Volvo's XC90 launch campaign revved up sales

The XC90 is Volvo's leading model and has defined the company's U.S. comeback, evidenced by 15 months of consecutive sales growth in the U.S. market through September 2016.

Volvo XC90
Volvo XC90

Company: Volvo Car USA
Campaign: Launch of the All-New Volvo XC90
Agency: WE Communications (Volvo’s U.S. PR AOR)
Duration: Mid-2014 to December 2016

With the launch of its XC90 2016 model, Volvo set out to compete with luxury brands such as Mercedes, BMW, and Audi.

The brand’s campaign began two years ago, and included an influencer trip to Sweden, a live-crash demo media event, and customized test drives.

The XC90 is currently Volvo's leading model and has defined the company’s U.S. comeback, evidenced by 15 months of consecutive sales growth in the U.S. market through September 2016.

In early 2014, Volvo's U.S. sales were dwindling and the brand was looking for a comeback.

Volvo called upon WE Communications to position the launch of its 2016 XC90 as a demonstration of the brand's transformation into a luxury automaker. Planning for the campaign began in mid- 2014.

"Our goal was to drive sales," said Tiffany Cook, EVP, consumer, at WE Communications.

The campaign team sought to involve targeted media in the 2014 product reveal and continue momentum with media and influencer events that would help create hype for the June 2015 U.S. launch date.

The brand wanted media to experience the SUV in upscale, lifestyle settings which would aid in expanding coverage beyond auto trade outlets to design, business, lifestyle, and technology media.

Through Volvo’s corporate objective called "Vision 2020," the brand has made it a major goal to see that no one will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by 2020. The PR team looked to highlight design features and technology in the XC90 that would reinforce this aim.

In August 2014, the PR team executed an excursion to Sweden with more than 30 selected U.S. influencers, including Rita Cook, an auto and travel writer from the Huffington Post; and James Bassil from AskMen.

The experience culminated in the XC90 reveal at the art venue Artipelag, near Stockholm, in late August 2014. The event introduced a virtual reality experience showcasing driving and design elements of the SUV.

"This launch was also an opportunity to reignite awareness and establish Volvo in different ways than how the brand had been perceived before," added Cook.

In February 2015, more than 150 journalists were invited to customized test drives hosted by Volvo's engineers and designers. A fleet of XC90s facilitated one-on-one test drives with media influencers.

In December 2015, the XC90 went through a live crash-test demo at Volvo’s Safety Center in Sweden for a curated group of auto, business, and lifestyle media to demonstrate safety aspects of the vehicle.

In 2015 and 2016, the XC90 completed a tour of auto shows, featuring press conferences, cutaways of the XC90’s interior, and "first drive" VR experiences using Google Cardboard technology. Some of the auto shows included: the Paris Motor Show, Los Angeles Auto Show, and the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

In 2016, the comms team sustained interest by placing the car at top lifestyle events like Volvo Ocean Race in Newport, Rhode Island, and created an exclusive experience for lifestyle press at the Guggenheim Museum in New York where the XC90 was on display.

The campaign team has secured more than 1,500 articles featuring the XC90. Coverage expanded beyond auto publications and included outlets focused on luxury, technology, and business, such as: Monocle, Surface, Architectural Digest, Bloomberg, Elle Décor, Departures, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Business Insider, and Popular Science.

By the end of 2015, U.S. XC90 sales reached 12,665 units sold, representing 18% of total U.S. sales. In 2016, sales surged with a 412% increase in units sold from January through September, compared to the year prior, and 41% of all Volvos sold in the U.S. have been XC90s.

The 2016 XC90 received a plethora of accolades, including: North American Utility of the Year, awarded by the North American International Auto Show; Motor Trend’s SUV of the Year; Good Housekeeping’s Best New Luxury Crossover; Roadshow by CNET’s Vehicle of the Year; and Green Car Journal’s Luxury Green Car of the Year.

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