The Player: Maloney wants Volvo viewed as both safe and luxurious

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John Maloney is trying to steer Volvo's image into wider territory.

As VP-communications of the Ford Motor Co.-owned brand, Mr. Maloney wants to broaden Volvo's brand positioning into driving performance and excitement, while maintaining its longstanding safety image. His goal is for Volvo to compete against top luxury brands, including BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.

Part of his challenge is Volvo Cars of North America's vehicles are durable, so many older models are still on the road, perpetuating its former boxy, stodgy styling. The Chicago-area native, overseer of all consumer messaging from advertising to events, knows moving the brand will take "a sustained effort over time."

And he's trying to transform his marque's mature image on a limited ad budget. Volvo spent just $52 million in measured media during the first 11 months of 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

Still, the brand has enjoyed rising vehicle sales. Volvo sales in the first two months of 2004 rose by nearly 14% to 20,442 units vs. a year ago, according to the company. Its sales in February marked its sixteenth straight month of year-over-year monthly increases. It said it set an annual U.S. sales record in 2003 of 134,586 units, a nearly 22% jump from 2002-the best increase of any of the brands in Ford garage. Volvo's first sport utility vehicle, the XC90, became the marketer's top-selling U.S. model last year, in its first full year on sale.

Mr. Maloney's prior position was as XC90 launch manager. He cited the SUV's launch as his proudest professional accomplishment to date. Marking a first at Volvo, he coordinated all areas of the launch, instead of the company's usual route of having each discipline direct its own efforts. In the eight months before XC90's on-sale date in November 2002, the SUV was on Volvo's Web site and select auto journalists wrote about their test drives of early prototypes. VIP preview events were held at the leading dealerships-another Volvo first. Volvo, with only roughly 6,000 available XC90s in the two final months of 2002, got 8,000 early customer orders with deposits before the SUV went on sale. "We had never even done 1,000 pre-orders before that," Mr. Maloney said.

Volvo hopes to duplicate that success with this month's estimated $28 million launch for its redone S40 (AA, Jan. 28). One TV spot shows the younger-targeted sedan in a Microsoft Xbox video game. Wes Brown, an analyst with auto consultancy Iceology, praised the Xbox TV commercial because it touts Volvo's safety heritage while showing the S40's fun-to-drive side. Havas' Euro RSCG MVBMS, New York, handles.

John Berg, president of Volvo's ad agency, said Mr. Maloney has been able to add vitality to Volvo's image as an additive rather than a shift from safety. "He really pushes on both levers." Mr. Berg also challenges the agency to "make sure we sell these [vehicles] as Volvos and keep our incredible distinctiveness."


Mr. Maloney learned a valuable lesson while on the marketing team for the fall 2000 launch of the 2001-model S60. The car was launched online only, partly due to budget restraints and partly due to the clutter of holiday advertising. "That was a one-legged stool," he said. "You have to have an orchestrated effort."

Mr. Maloney said he didn't plan to be in the car business. But after graduating from Purdue University, he was presented with two job offers: Frito-Lay or Ford. He accepted the Ford job in 1983, figuring cars are such a big part of peoples' lives.

Mr. Maloney joined Volvo in 2000 as tactical marketing manager and was the first Ford staffer on the roster there. Mark LaNeve, then VP-marketing at Volvo who is now general manager of General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac division, described Mr. Maloney as "a very well-rounded auto executive who understands the market and has a proven track record."

Mr. Maloney figures he can stretch Volvo's image each time a new model arrives. "We are not trying to be somebody else. We'll find our own place in the sun."


Name: John A. Maloney

Age: 42

Now: VP-communications, Volvo Cars of North America

Who: Promoted to VP at Volvo in fall 2002, he oversees product launches, advertising, events and market research. He's been with Ford Motor Co. since 1983. He plotted marketing strategy both at Ford's global marketing arm and Volvo.

Challenge: To broaden Volvo's brand image by adding fun-to-drive elements while retaining its core safety positioning with a limited ad budget.

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