Anatomy of a Buy: Out of the Box

  • by November 1, 2000
Volvo is using the Internet almost exclusively to push its more modern, sexier S60 to a wired buyer’s market.

“They’re Boxy, But They’re Good!” was the parody slogan coined for Volvo in the ‘80s movie Crazy People. In the year 2000, Volvos are no longer boxy, but they’re still good. This is due in large part to the Volvo Car Corporation’s effort to make your dad’s car appealing to you. To rope in the moneyed thirty-something demographic—“people who are technology oriented,” says Phil Bienert, Volvo’s west-coast head of marketing—the company has just launched their Revolvolution campaign (

Based on the concept that everything old can be made new again and that a company whose product is known for supreme safety, but not sex, can reinvent itself, the Volvo S60 is the first car that has ever been advertised primarily online.

While Volvo is not doing a heavy print run, they have placed a few strategic billboards in Los Angeles. Limited print ads will appear in specialty automotive magazines like Car and Driver and Motor Trend. These ads feature no singular message other than the Revolvolution tag and a silhouette of the S60—as though Volvo is daring consumers to look at the car on their site. There is no TV campaign or national print campaign.

The S60 itself—what Volvo marketers describe as a coupe crossed with a sedan—has been a long time in the making. Peter Horbury, Volvo’s chief of design, modeled the S60 on the company’s 1960’s 122 series, today’s S80, V70, C70 Coupe, and Volvo’s 1993 Environmental Concept Car, effectively rendering the S60 a smart-looking hodgepodge of design and function.

But the Revolvolution campaign is, though less traditional, no less well planned. “Ultimately, the main goal is to sell vehicles,” says Bienert. “With all the changes that have gone on through the years of Volvo sales, this is a different type of company with a different type of product [than before].” Volvo wants consumers to remember the elements of its cars of yore: safety, value, and reliability. But, they also want to reach out to younger car buyers in the medium in which they function—the web.

“We already knew ahead of time that 85% of Volvo customers are online,” says Bienert. “That’s a huge gap from our biggest competitor. The closest one has 60% online. It’s time for us to market to our customers in a way they seem to be asking. We know an overall population is using this media; we’re focusing in more closely on the person who is career-oriented in their 30s” Bienert says.

So how is Volvo driving the message home to modern, career-oriented thirty-somethings with money burning a hole in their virtual pockets? Well, they’re going a little pedestrian. Yep, you guessed it: they did an exclusive marketing deal with AOL. Under the partnership, Volvo will have banner representation, presence on AOL’s auto channel, on Mapquest, and on Digital

All AOL users who click on the Revolvolution logo, banner, or other ad for the S60 will be linked to, where they can learn about the car or use the “car configurator” feature to create a custom vehicle online and send it to a retailer for order. On the Revolvolution site itself, however, there is no outside advertising available to buy. According to Volvo, this is an effort to keep the product representation pure.

Volvo and AOL have also conceived a special offer for members interested in buying the S60: an accessory package worth up to $2,100 off the purchase price. Bienert is optimistic about the advantages of an online campaign.

“What’s different about doing [the campaign] online is that we really can put much more direct metrix into measuring effectiveness online, because of click-through rates,” explains Bienert. “We can do much closer sales tracking online, and leads can be tracked more accurately. We also get much more targeted eyeballs than with traditional media.” Based on the early interest signified, then, by traffic from AOL, Volvo will be snail mailing out 500,000 CD-Roms with information on the S60.

Revolvolution will also enter one’s consciousness via AOL’s editorial space, which, says Bienert, cannot be bought. While it raises amusing questions about whether he means content areas of AOL or your consciousness, the forthcoming launch of AOL 6.0 coincides nicely with the emergence of the S60, a bit of fortunate timing that did not escape Bienert or Volvo CEO Mark Linate. The notion that “both companies are changing,” according to Bienert, led them to decide on AOL while looking at proposals from a “number of different outlets.”

What’s curious, though, is that with all the backend technology and support that third-party Revolvolution site host HostPro can provide and the flash-heavy, clearly competent design skills of Heavy Water (, visitors cannot BUY the S60—or any Volvo, for that matter—online. It has been said that large-ticket items are tough to sell in a two-dimensional medium, since consumers like to touch expensive things before they buy them.

However, if the audience Volvo is appealing to is already 85% online, presumably spending a considerable amount of money on Internet goods and services, it seems like a shot in the foot not to give them the option of buying the vehicle at When asked why this is, Bienert responded that each car is custom designed at this point, and thus needs to be handled through a retailer who can order one for you.

With a sticker price of $26,500, and a sleek design sure to reach the intended demographic, the S60 was still being shipped from port at press time, and the official start of sales is not until November 1. In addition, the Revolvolution site had launched only a few days before, giving Volvo little time to make any telling statements about the success of the online campaign.

Though it was too early to look at a weekly sales conversion rate at that point, Volvo did say that it was seeing four times the unique visitors at as at its basic site ( This traffic, says Bienert, can be directly traced to the campaign’s AOL presence. With most of the page views and back end data informing Volvo that web users were downloading brochures and submitting requests through the car-configurator, the Revolvolution campaign appears to be off to a start that’s “Out of the Box...and Good.”

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