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This is the first in an occasional series of articles that will analyze new ads and campaigns from a creative standpoint. Editor at Large Anthony Vagnoni will look at how the strategy guided the concept, and how the creative team followed it through to execution.

Volvo's getting too sexy for its sheet metal. The new print and TV campaign for its C70 coupe and cabriolet models is further evidence the carmaker that turned "drive safely" into more than a mere sentiment is loosening up -- not only in its product design but advertising imagery and message as well.

The campaign, created by Messner Vetere et al., is an ambitious, image-driven effort. As Messner's first Volvo work to run globally, the ads communicate on an almost completely visual level; they're designed to shift consumer perceptions about Volvo beyond safety and engineering and convey the sense Volvo is making cars with emotional and fashion appeal.


As agency partner and Creative Director Ron Berger put it, "Volvo's message has evolved to one of safety combined with driving pleasure and excitement. These cars are a prime example of that."

To achieve this, the team of partner/Art Director Phil Silvestri and partner/Copywriter Richard Roth, working under Creative Director Michael Lee, turned to fashion and celebrity photographer Albert Watson. The result is a wide-ranging series of print ads that rely on Mr. Watson's classic portraiture to capture glamorous, sophisticated people reacting to high-contrast shots of the car.

In each ad, the visuals are linked by a single copyline that describes both images as well as the campaign's double-entendre slogan, "It will move you in ways a Volvo never has."

The campaign also includes two graphics-laden TV spots directed by Jeff Darling of Radical Media and produced by Tom Meloth at the agency.


The entire print treatment, covering an extensive range of executions and combined with typography and text in various languages, was then assembled on two CD-ROMs for use by Volvo agencies anywhere in the world.

In addition, the agency took many of Mr. Watson's photographs and produced a glossy, coffee-table book titled "Moving Pictures," to be given to buyers of the C70s, most of whom are having to wait for delivery.

The creative goal, said Mr. Silvestri, "Was to come up with something different than what people expect from a Volvo."

Mr. Watson got the assignment because he had worked on International Paper Co. commercials for Messner, and the creatives there had enjoyed the collaboration. Also, Mr. Silvestri was attracted to "Cyclops," Mr. Watson's book of photographs published in 1994.

Was the campaign hard to sell? Not really, Mr. Silvestri explained. "Everyone saw this as a campaign that we needed to do for the C70. We needed to make people see that Volvo could make a sexy car," he said.

Mr. Silvestri added that Mr. Watson was surprised the agency wanted him to shoot the cars, as opposed to hiring an experienced car-shooter to do the vehicle and allowing him to concentrate on the portraits.


"We wanted his vision of how he would shoot the car like a piece of sculpture or some fashion item," Mr. Silvestri commented.

The car shots -- done in b&w, as were the portraits -- are seen in the print ads against digitally created color backgrounds designed to further highlight the images. The shots of the car are different in a subtle way: more like editorial photography than advertising.

"We didn't want the typical, Detroit sheet-metal shots," said Mr. Silvestri.

Mr. Watson, who hasn't photographed cars in almost 25 years, said he was intrigued by the changes in automobile photography, and approached this project with a desire to light the cars "aggressively," using strong lighting to complement the finely detailed nature of the portraits.


While the approach was different than the pristine, often softly lit look of most car print advertising, he said the agency was pleased with the outcome.

"They were happy to have some of the cars' details disappear into shadows," he said. "It made them look more sexy. . . . [Overall], "the look is more powerful, more mysterious."

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