Volvo Car India: Where's the 'safety' belt?

By Neha Kalra , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | May 18, 2009
afaqs! uncovers Volvo's first ever ad in India. Interestingly, the Indian positioning does not talk about safety - its global positioning platform

Volvo, a trusted global name for safety in the automobile sector, has released its first ever commercial in India for its luxury sedan S80. This television ad comes after its presence of almost two years in the Indian market.

The commercial does not talk about safety - an element which is undoubtedly essential to Volvo's global communication. afaqs! finds out about the firsts, the strategy beyond safety and what the Indian creative industry has to say about it.

Subtracting safety from the creative

As a first, the television commercial being aired in India is an adaptation - there is a Russian version of the ad as well. The creative agency of Volvo in India is Pickle Advertising - however, this ad being a global campaign, the agency has not executed it.

The commercial, opens in an airport, showing people rushing around with their baggage. One person is seen stepping into a chartered plane, while the next shot cuts to the jet in the air. Drawing a parallel with the jet, the subsequent cyclic shift of shots of the cruising jet and the Volvo S80 are interspersed with the usual shots of the interiors and the exterior of the car, associated with regular car advertising.

The voiceover talks about comfort and the Scandinavian design. The film closes with the voiceover highlighting the tagline, 'Because leaders who look after their people, deserve to be looked after well'. The film closes on the logo of Volvo.

The ad chooses to speak about a certain level of unparalleled luxury. Why veer away from safety, the sturdy premise of Volvo for years? Rahul Jauhari, national creative head, Pickle Advertising, believes that India is not so much a safety conscious market when it comes to cars, as opposed to the high emphasis on safety globally. "Besides, there is so much a Volvo can talk about!" he says.

Sudeep Narayan, marketing and public relations manager, Volvo Car India, seconds Jauhari: he is of the view that the brand would not have gained as much traction with the positioning of safety. "Safety, as a concept, is beyond wearing safety belts. It is strange that the definition of safety is a metal body surrounding the passengers of the car - well, safety is beyond that," he says.

The Indian consumer needs to be educated about the significance of safety, says the Volvo team. "It is true that people have to appreciate the value of safety and the technology that we put in our cars. Only then can we move on from styling to safety, in the marketing sense," adds Narayan.

Jauhari goes a step further. According to him, the ad does touch on safety at a subliminal level. "The pure air in the car is also somewhat a safety," he insists. "On the other hand, the safety features that a Volvo possesses are a luxury in itself - so we're trying to create a marriage of the two."

As Volvo is a people-centric car, the ad talks to a leader who looks at the larger picture. The positioning comes from the fact that luxury through a Volvo S80 is not rash luxury, but comes with a sense of responsibility.

Industry chatter

afaqs! spoke to car buffs in the ad industry to ascertain whether Volvo's commercial in India is a luxurious attempt, or simply 'safe' advertising (pun notwithstanding). "This is not an adaptation; it is simply a reflection of the international ad," says Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar, chief creative officer, Rediffusion Y&R.

Mahabaleshwarkar has spent almost a decade working on Tata Motors - Sumo, Safari and Sierra - at Ogilvy India, and is now hands-on on the Tata Nano. His thesis is simple: auto advertising is driven primarily by two aspects - brilliant engineering or/and an attitude of the car. Ferrari is a great instance of the former attribute. For the latter, Maruti's Esteem was an advertising failure (though it was a good machine) only due to a lack of attitude.

"You are what you drive," states Mahabaleshwarkar, "and this ad does little on both the above mentioned counts."

Dhiren Amin, director, strategic planning, Euro RSCG India, believes that with the 'leader' thought, the brand has found a tight and precise way of defining what it wants to say. But here's the catch: "Volvo talking without safety puzzled me!" he says. "Two things - first, safety and luxury are definitely not interchangeable. Second, the Scandinavian design makes no promise of any kind to grab interest."

In a category which includes BMW and Mercedes, one does understand that even though not catering to a mass audience, the premium car category is certainly an evolved one. "Rs 25 lakh is big money. 'Tell me something more' - that's today's Indian consumer for you," exclaims Mahabaleshwarkar.

Amin adds, "Luxury is about discovery - a discovery of the product. Comfort, meanwhile, is a bit generic - and this strategy seems all garbled, somewhere in between."

Volvo and the category

The Volvo S80 directly competes with the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5 Series and Audi A6. Going by that, the market size of the premium car segment (minus the entry level sedan) is about 2,000 cars per annum.

If one considers the entire market, including entry level sedans and brands such as Porsche, the market size of the premium car segment stands at about 8,000-10,000 cars per annum.

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