Ashwini Gangal

2021 Volvo ad for S60 about 'saving lives' looks odd without historical context

A curious case of 'covid copywriting' or vaccine tinted lens of the beholder?

I saw this ad (above) on Twitter on January 7. The copywriting jumped out at me; these days, a promise to save lives has that sort of impact, doesn’t it? My first reaction on seeing the advertisement was: ‘Oh, that’s borderline opportunistic copywriting…’, because, it felt as though the advertiser was just trying to make the right noises and pander to mass sentiment. After all, the present day zeitgeist is riddled with anxiety over viruses and vaccines.

Here's the full tweet:

While at a cerebral level, I knew the car brand had to be referring to some sort of safety-related technology or feature, at a less rational level it felt like it was taking advantage of my fears of the moment.

Then, a colleague sent me an ad film (dated Dec 2020 on YouTube) for the Volvo XC40, equipped with ‘Pedestrian Detection’ (video below):

The script crowns pedestrians, as opposed to those behind the wheel, as true owners of city streets. It reminds me of an Amazon Prime show ‘Upload’, set in a weird, dystopian kind of future, where self-driving cars have to be pre-set to prioritise either the occupants or pedestrians, in the event of an accident.

Volvo’s teaser for the upcoming S60 could be related to this kind of safety feature, perhaps.

Or I could be on to something apropos ‘covid copywriting’.

This was where my LinkedIn post ended. I was heartened to see some involved reactions and intelligent comments on my post.

Hesham Choudhary, account director, Dentsu M21, said, "For someone who's an auto buff, (I) would know that is typical Volvo copy. Some of their copies go: 'Saving lives since 1959, 'Saved more than a million lives'; their campaign 'A million more' is noteworthy. Volvo cars have an enduring reputation for being safe right from their inception. In fact, it has become a cornerstone of the brand’s identity. They invented the world famous 3 point seat belt in 1959! The best part - they didn't patent their technology and let other car manufacturers implement their safety tech. They did the automotive world a favour and even today car manufacturers refer to Volvo to catch up with safety features. People have always been at the heart of Volvo's philosophy."

As a brand strategist and writer pointed out in her comment on my post, it is the present day context that makes the ad appear opportunistic. Historically speaking, though, the ad is on point.

Specifically, Geeta Sundaram, ex-Ogilvy writer-creative director (Delhi office), said, "Well, sadly, this is a case of the context making a brand's positioning suddenly seem opportunistic. There is no ulterior motive in Volvo adopting this stance, since the brand has been known to be the safest car for decades. It is interesting to see how Volvo has maintained and extended its safety positioning in the electronic and digital age. By developing new technological features that enhance safety, not just of its own passengers, but of everyone around. It doesn't matter which model of the Volvo it is, the point is in finding ways to maintain the brand's differentiation and positioning in the market. That said, the communication could have been better and sharper, both in digital as well as on TV. In fact, if they had anticipated reactions like yours, they could have pre-empted it by saying: As always, you can expect a Volvo to save lives. Expect the new Volvo S60 soon."

She added, "Volvo, at least in India, seemed to have vacated the safest car positioning for many years and it's good that they have now returned to it."

In any case, I was happy to be called out. I end with an old Volvo ad I found on Pinterest:

1988 Print ad for Volvo 740 Sedan
1988 Print ad for Volvo 740 Sedan