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Volvo resurrects long-standing safety theme through new ad campaign

Automotive News

LOS ANGELES -- After a run of playful new-vehicle introduction advertising from Volvo Cars of North America Inc., the stoic Swedish automaker is returning to its heritage: safety.

Resurrecting the long-standing theme that Volvo vehicles save the lives of occupants in horrific crashes, the TV ads show Volvos progressing down the assembly line as owners give voice-over testimonials.

"I remember walking away from the car thinking we could have died," says one owner, beginning a string of several such claims. Only at the end of the ad does the familiar voice of Donald Sutherland intone, "Volvo. Seventy-five years of building life."

The somber ads, done by the New York office of Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners, are a major departure from the almost whimsical spots the agency created for the S60 launch.

One "ReVolvolution" ad for the S60 showed a young couple screeching to a stop to avoid an accident and having their boxed pizza lose all its toppings. But the driver briskly pulls away, and the toppings slide back in place. The message: That 60 to 0 times can be as important as 0 to 60.

"The S60 launch was certainly different, and it gave us the opportunity to talk about different things," said Thomas Andersson, Volvo executive vice president of marketing. "But after the last 12 months, we needed to refocus on the brand and its values, and communicate it in a new way."

Also, a company source said some Volvo purists had arched their eyebrows at the levity of the S60 ads. Andersson said he had heard no such grumblings but admitted that "not everyone gets it."

Volvo sales are off 16.8 percent through July, although a spokesman said most of the decline is because of Volvo exiting the fleet and daily rental segments.

The new ads are a stark reminder of dangers on the road, and they are another attempt by Volvo to make safety an aspirational cue.

At the same time, consumers drawn to Volvo's sleek new lines may not know the automaker's safety record, said Steve Saxty, auto industry analyst with FutureBrand in New York.

"Now is the time for Volvo to reinforce its safety message, because they have cool, interesting cars and a new generation of consumers who don't think of Volvo as boxy 760 wagons," Saxty said. "Why not remind people that these are really safe cars?"

Volvo says about 2,000 people are members of the Volvo Saved My Life Club.

As Volvo stretches into new segments such as the XC90 sport-utility, and S60R and V70R road rockets, advertising safety unifies the brand and can transfer across segments, Saxty said.

Volvo and Euro RSCG discussed the wisdom of running a safety-oriented campaign, given the proximity to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Andersson said. After all, might some people think Volvo was crassly playing into people's fears about personal safety with such a campaign?

"We looked at the timing going into Sept. 11, and we thought about how careful we should be. But we know we are an authentic brand," Andersson said. "We are the only ones who can talk about this legitimately. This is nothing new for Volvo."

The ads, scheduled to run through August on cable news programs, also are being tested for possible airing in Europe.

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