Volvo: Image-Obsessed Need Not Apply

Volvo-BVolvo Cars North America hopes to create elbow room in the luxury category by positioning itself as a brand for the objective shopper versus image-conscious buyers (read BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi owners). 

The effort, via Boston-based Arnold Worldwide, spotlights Volvo’s S60 sedan and XC-60 crossover with television, digital, social and targeted outdoor as well as a national test-drive program. The latter involves an S60 stare-down with Audi’s A4 sedan: participants get the keys to both vehicles.  

The campaign breaks a relative radio silence for the brand -- which, since being acquired by Chinese holding company Zhejiang Geely Holding Group four years ago really hasn’t had a large, extended campaign such as this. 



Don Lane, managing partner of Arnold Worldwide, tells Marketing Daily that the campaign presages the imminent redesign of the two featured vehicles, "so it gave us an opportunity to reframe the brand. It's a great chance for us to get the word out about the vehicles, and that the Volvo driver has different priorities." 

As for the A4 focus, he says it’s the most cross-shopped vehicle against the S60. "That was enlightening for us; it's the impetus for the challenge." 

The initial TV spot, which just launched ( there’s another in the works right now) juxtaposes a Volvo XC-60 owner’s priorities with that of a Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV driver. A stoplight: on the left is a socialite preening in the rear-view mirror. She looks across with acid contempt at a woman in a Volvo XC-60 crossover, while the mom at the helm of the Volvo is unfazed. While the sophisticate primps in the mirror, the mom looks in hers to make cross-eyes at her kids. The spot highlights that “Volvos aren’t for everyone, and we kinda like it that way.” Other competitive ads will roll out this year. "We didn't want this to just be a brand message that is soft, but hard-hitting. We are putting our money where our mouth is." 

An out-of-home component in top markets says Volvo is a brand for the pretentious-averse. “Pretense is so past tense,” says one headline. Creative is set for top markets like Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago.

There’s a big social media focus as well, per Lane, with a laser focus on Facebook and Twitter. “We are trying to spark a conversation,” says Lane. 

Jeremy Anwyl, co-chairman of, says that however else Volvo positions itself, it should not abandon safety, a point of brand equity Volvo used to own. "That will resonate most with consumers," he says, conceding that safety, at least passive safety -- things like airbags -- has been pretty much mined out. "But you could argue active safety [warning systems and automatic braking] is where they could be pioneers.” 

He says Volvo will face trouble because of the many choices that didn’t exist 20 years ago  when the luxury market had more open space. Anwyl does agree that Audi is probably the right competitive target. "Audi owners are new to the luxury market and probably aren't all that loyal."

1 comment about "Volvo: Image-Obsessed Need Not Apply".
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  1. Michael Strassman from Similarweb, April 18, 2013 at 2:32 p.m.

    I don't think this will resonate well and has little staying effect 'we're the luxury car for people who don't care about status'. Not really a differentiated position or one what highlights what the brand's value proposition is. As a big fan of Volvo and someone who likes BMWs and Audis, they need to find a compelling story about their car, not a flimsy reason to chase people away from the competition. The ingredients are there.

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