Released about 10 days ago on cable, seemingly out of sequence, this little Volvo spot has created a huge social media squall.
Commenters are polarized (fitting for the times), either hate-watching, love-watching, or just looking up and asking “What the hell was that?”
Indeed, the spot, entitled “Wedding,” from Grey Advertising, offers much to ponder. There’s the music, by Sharon Van Etten, that is unexpected and wonderful — but also surprisingly glum, perhaps in a way that is positively Swedish.
Then there’s the mystery of the four passengers who are enjoying the empty road, and this beautiful interior space, cradled by the sophisticated audio system and buttery leather seats. It supplies a mystical mood and a vibe that’s reminiscent of that great Nick Drake commercial for Volkswagen all those years ago.
But what really makes a difference here is that as a group, this new “family” presents an ambiguous tweak on the standard white, rich, straight people normally shown in commercials for vehicles in the $38K-$78K range.
And that seems to make viewers nervous. Everything about this group is nuanced, subtle and slightly unknowable, in terms of who’s related to whom. Age, sexuality, skin color, roles — it’s not on the “binary,” as they say.
Most of the chatter is about the inspired casting of that older hipster graybeard sitting in the back. For starters, very few American dads look like him, with his abundant white hair, sizable schnoz, elegant suit, and artisanal beard. He’s a younger cross between Commander Whitehead and the Most Interesting Man in the World, seeming to scream “Hot Yoga Dad.”
And by the way, what’s he doing back there, fiddling with his pricey Hasselblad and his wedding ring?
After fondling that ring, and taking off his Ray-Ban Wayfarers, he gives the driver, a pretty blonde woman, a tender squeeze on her nicely padded shoulder. Is she his daughter/wife/lover/sister/mother? This too is a mystery, but the big thing that seems to be to be blowing even nonconventional minds on the Net: Why is this woman driving?
Jeez, Louise, you’d think that this hasn’t happened every day in America for the last 60 years or so. But here it’s seen as some kind of role reversal that’s got everyone up in arms.
Speaking of arms, I like the driver’s look, in her Oscar de la Renta outfit with the geometric lace jacket. Behind the wheel, she appears to be kind of Swedish, beautiful, with great bone structure, and seemingly strong, sturdy and reliable.
Wait, Mother Courage is the embodiment of the Volvo!
Still, commenters seem confused as to whether she’s the bride (she’s not, she’s Hot Yoga Dad’s wife.) But there was also a lot of morbid joking about why he looks so happy, and where his actual wife might be stashed. (Is the trunk big enough?)
Most people didn’t know that the title was “Wedding," and some guessed (maybe from the semi-glum music?) that this group was coming back from a funeral. Which evoked the classic, brilliantly funny VW ad from the early ‘60s promoting penny-pinching.
But this is the opposite. Volvo: the car for pleasant post-funeral luxury motoring?
Other, less-pleased commenters described the spot as needlessly confusing, annoying and/or pretentious, like that other automotive attention-getter, the much-parodied Matthew McConaughey campaign for the Lincoln SUV, featuring his bizarre, rambling soliloquies.
But here, we didn’t have to scratch our heads for long. Volvo recently released a second commercial, “Letter,” explaining it all — mostly.
Indeed, it shows that the spots are out of sequence. We would have understood the premise much more clearly had we seen the second one first. This shows Beardy sitting in his Volvo alone, near a lighthouse, composing his father-of-the-bride speech, and reading it out loud. (So the pictures in his fancy camera were of his daughter’s wedding)
It’s very touching, nicely written, and obviously timely for Father’s Day. He writes in a beautiful notebook with an interesting pen. With these sophisticated aesthetics, he’s either in advertising, or is one of those forward-thinking green architects who populate movies and get paid 100 times what real architects actually make.
Actually, I much prefer “Wedding” because of all of its oddness, even chronologically. In that way, it reminded me of Showtime’s “The Affair,” and some of the best episodic TV shows that people are streaming these days. Whereas this second spot is much more like advertising.
My sources tell me that there will be a longer version, an Internet-only third spot, to be released around Father’s Day, that will cover everything — even the mystery of the boys. (One is a friend, one is a son.)
Far from creating an ad with no strategy, with this work, Volvo has developed a fresh new voice for the brand. It’s not about competitiveness and aggression, like other luxury cars. It’s more nuanced, and the niche the brand wants to reach will appreciate that it’s about culture and performance.
And Volvo achieved all this buzz on a relatively tiny media budget.
I happen to think that it’s in our DNA to appreciate great ads, which people are starved for these days. Advertisers focused only on making great spots for the Super Bowl are missing a big opportunity.
Network TV is a wasteland of amateurish, cheaply made, local junk, or pharma spots showing a walking colon, or people talking about their “medium-to-severe" version of diseases, with voiceovers reminding us of side effects, like leakage and suicidal thoughts. This all seeps into the collective consciousness, sending consumers fleeing.
The first spot neatly echoes what the modern luxury Volvo demo is doing. It’s meta-media, appealing to the creative class who are home, binge-watching serialized television, puzzling out the pieces, happy to see weirdo families and couples having trouble.
Right, did someone say something about a car?