Volvo touts models' safety-and style

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Volvo cars of North America got this eye-opener in recent research: The top reason cited for increased consideration of the Ford Motor Co.-owned brand wasn't safety. It was the vehicles' good looks.

John Maloney, VP-communications of Volvo, said that insight led the automaker to decide on a two-pronged message of safety and styling for its 2006 models. New national TV and magazine ads from Havas' Euro RSCG, New York, breaking the week of Sept. 12, will carry the theme: "Safety is a beautiful thing, especially when it's beautiful."

Volvo has backed away from its safety positioning from time to time in the past eight years since deciding to expand its positioning to performance and styling. But "safety is always going to be part of our message," Mr. Maloney said.

One way Volvo will tout that message is a video game dubbed "Drive For Life." Developed with an undisclosed software outfit for use on an Xbox, consumers drive three Volvo models and can turn safety systems on and off to see how they help vehicle control and stability. The game, with an area offering vehicle information, will be available at Volvo dealerships in mid-September and handed out at various events. It's "a more interesting way to deliver information," said Mr. Maloney.

DOWN YEAR

Volvo's only product news this year was the V-8 version of the XC-90 sport utility, which was introduced with a TV spot and glitzy promotion during the Super Bowl. The automaker's next launch isn't until next spring, when the all-new C-70 convertible arrives after a one-year absence.

The car company knew 2005 would mark a down year for the brand because of the product cadence, said Mr. Maloney. Volvo said last week its U.S. vehicle sales through August slid by 6% to 94,058 units vs. the same period a year ago.

Volvo hasn't participated in Ford's "Family Plan" discount program and it was probably also hurt by rivals' more-generous lease deals, said Wes Brown, an analyst with Iceology. Volvo relies heavily on cars and has only a single SUV and wagon. "Volvo needs to broaden its product portfolio," he said.

Separately, Volvo is shifting its media strategy. On the recommendation of its media shop, MPG, the brand started backing away from spot TV in the 21 markets that represent 70% of its sales and increased national TV buys, especially cable, said Mr. Maloney.

Volvo spent $55 million in measured media last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence. In the first five months of 2005, Volvo spent a total of $26 million, according to TNS, including $9 million in cable TV, $5 million in spot TV and $4 million on the broadcast TV networks.

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