Garfield's AdReview: Volvo Web minifilm has style, but little actual advertising

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Don't get us wrong. We believe what we're supposed to believe: Broccoli is good for you, God loves America most and broadcast TV is basically on the ventilator until such time as broadband gets a little more penetration and somebody finally pulls the plug on CBS and so on.

Yes, aged and calcified though we may be, we understand that soon the Internet will rule. We're inclined to think most Internet advertising won't be markedly different than the stuff we now see on TV and magazines. But we begrudge nobody a little experimentation, and if marketers want to play around with various viral forms, good for them.

For instance, BMW Films. It's certainly possible that involving Web audiences in product-as-hero mini-movies will actually build the brand. Whether any adults with $40,000 to $115,000 will be motivated isn't clear, but BMW definitely has the 12-year-old boy market in its thrall.

Another possibility is simply the proliferation of car-brand minimovies, each trying hard to be infectious, but essentially just neutralizing one another. By the time Hyundai Elantra Films materialize, the gimmick will be played out.

But it's still early. So here's Volvo, via MVBMS Fuel Europe, Amsterdam, with its first entry: a 10-minute mockumentary about the small town of Dalaro, Sweden, where-supposedly-32 people bought an S40 compact sedan in one day. Actually, mockumentary may be the wrong word, because in that form (classically, "Take the Money and Run" and "This is Spinal Tap") it is always clear, via the comedy, that the journalism is fake. This short subject never lets on; its tongue never expands its cheek.

After a brief disquisition on Carl Jung's theories of the collective unconscious, for instance, the narrator flatly poses: "Is it possible, then, that the people of Dalaro decided subconsciously to buy a Volvo that Saturday morning? Could these 32 unrelated people actually have begun acting as one somehow?"

The action, direction and writing are dead-on. It looks just like a real documentary-a real, albeit a not particularly watchable documentary, because the coincidence of 32 near-simultaneous car purchases, however anomalous, doesn't quite rise to the level of human interest. It's hard to imagine many viewers hanging on for the undramatic conclusion.

You've got to give them style points, however. In addition to creating a phony storyline, they invented a phony Venezuelan director named Carlos Soto, whose phony Web site raises questions about whether he was duped by Volvo into filming staged interviews. So there's plenty for a sharp-eyed Web surfer to get caught up into here.

Oddly, what there isn't plenty of is looks at the Volvo S40. For that you have to click further-which anybody who goes to could have done without the expensive and unstimulating foreplay.

So, yep, this is indeed just like analog advertising: Creatives getting so caught up in their high-concept that they neglect to seriously consider how actual humans might interact with the resulting advertising, and whether it has a Yugo's chance in Sweden of moving any merchandise. BMW Films may or may not be onto something, but this Volvo entry is a day late and a Dalaro short.


MVBMS Fuel Europe, Amsterdam

Ad Review Rating: 2 stars

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