One ‘90’s Action Star, Two 18-Wheelers, Leads to “Epic” Results

Volvo-Van Damme

The incredible success of Volvo Trucks’ “Epic Split” ad shows how creative marketing can make anything awesome and not break the bank.

Those of us in marketing know that every product or service has an important story to tell. You just need to figure out how best to tell that story and, when budgets come into play, how to tell that story in a way that meets both the budget and expectations. Truly successful, forward-thinking companies know how to meet their budgets while far exceeding expectations.

Volvo Trucks has a history of creative, breakthrough advertising and has previously presented “Live Test” videos to show the superiority of their product. In this case, Volvo knew that their Dynamic Steering system was an impressive feature which improves precision and stability in any driving situation. But with a minimal budget, they weren’t sure how to communicate the value of that feature to their audience? Volvo’s ad agency found a way that was unique, cost-effective, and ended up creating, not only incredible buzz, but also great awareness for Volvo Trucks.

Social acceptance

The answer: hire a once-popular action star, Jean-Claude Van Damme; make a 1.17-minute video of him performing his world-famous split while straddling two Volvo tractor trailers driving in reverse down a highway; and have a song in the background that hasn’t been popular for over a decade. And then, use social media only by posting it on YouTube instead of TV. Oh, and while you’re at it, make the script about Van Damme and not the product. In fact, don’t even mention the name “Volvo” until the last 15 seconds. Yes there is a small Volvo logo in the top corner of the video, but the viewer’s eye is all on Van Damme.

The creative agency for Volvo, Forsman & Bodenfors, faced skeptics at the beginning of the process but once the video aired, all skepticism vanished. The video went viral almost immediately, garnering more than 73 million views on YouTube as of this date. It’s won a slew of creative awards including three Grand Prix awards, four Gold, seven Silver and one Bronze Lion at the 2014 Cannes Lion festival (The Cannes Film Festival for advertisers). And, according to Adweek, it’s made Volvo Trucks one of the most successful and admired brands in the history of social media marketing.

What were the results for Volvo?

Every marketing campaign, regardless of how brilliant, needs to be judged on its results. Wonderful creative is meaningless if it doesn’t create awareness and acceptance of, and hopefully conversion to the brand. Here’s what Anders Vilhelmsson, PR director for Volvo Trucks had to say. “We see all the indicators showing this has been a very good investment,” he told Adweek in its June 16 online edition. “…a relatively small investment – with a massive return.” Although he would not disclose the full sales figures, the following are some results he did share, based on a survey of 2,200 commercial truck owners and buyers:

  • Nearly half who saw Live Test videos, including “Epic Split,” said they are now more likely to choose Volvo the next time they make a truck purchase.
  • A third of respondents had contacted a dealer or visited a Volvo Trucks website to learn more after they saw the video..
  • The survey showed “a very positive impact on the perception of Volvo trucks as an innovative and modern truck brand.

Vilhelmsson notes that “If we talk to our salespeople in our 140 markets all over the world, they tell us very often one of the first things prospective customers bring up in conversation is the viral film.” In another measure of ROI, the video earned an estimated media value of $119 million through extensive media coverage globally, tens of thousands of editorial pieces online, and brand engagement across social media platforms.

Information and emotion are shared goals when reaching an audience

The reason they decided to push the Van Damme idea, according to agency senior partner and creative Bjorn Engstrom, is that “Truck buyers are surrounded by a lot of influencers, and the largest group is truck drivers. And you can’t reach truck drivers with traditional advertising. We needed to go broad and we didn’t have a media budget, so we decided viral was the only way to go.”

Companies now have so many social media platforms to choose from, so many pathways to connect to their current customers and prospects, that a large traditional media budget is no longer necessary. You may not have the budget to produce a video like Volvo, but you need to be willing to think “outside the box,” in ways that will move your audience to view you as a trusted resource, one they want to do business with.

Volvo’s Vilhelmsson stated it well when he indicated that brands should understand the need to both inform and entertain their audience and that one shouldn’t outweigh the other. “…if you want to communicate with people, you need to provide relevant content. You need to reach out on both an emotional level and a fact-based level because that’s the only way to make people want to take part in the content.”

If you haven’t already seen the video, you really should do so.

Kate Freer

About Kate Freer

Kate Freer is Vice President of Marketing for AmeriQuest Business Services. In this role, Kate is responsible for AmeriQuest’s marketing and communications activities, including image and market development, corporate communications, media relations, brand management, advertising, and market research and analysis. She leads go-to-market strategy for AmeriQuest and its subsidiary companies.Prior to her current role, Ms. Freer served as Director of Marketing of AmeriQuest. She joined the company in 2004 as Marketing Manager, was promoted to Director in 2007, and subsequently promoted to Vice President of Marketing in 2012.Before joining AmeriQuest, Ms. Freer held various marketing, communications, and advertising roles in the publishing industry for Information Today, Inc. and the Courier-Post, a Gannett company.Ms. Freer holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Stockton University.

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