Volvo effort extends image positioning

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Volvo Car Corp.'s first global campaign, breaking in the U.S. as early as April, departs from the Swedish carmaker's traditional, safety-focused advertising in favor of an emotional, stylish approach.

The job of the new advertising--backing the C70 coupe and convertible--is to be a symbol of change for Volvo, said Bob Austin, director of marketing communications at Volvo Cars of North America.


The key reason for the C70 convertible--Volvo's first in 40 years and available only in North America in 1998--and the coupe "is to introduce a new era of styling at Volvo," he said, adding that the C70s "are always going to be limited-production cars--image cars."

Volvo's U.S. agency, Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, created the global campaign. The agency wanted to evolve the previous, intellectually focused advertising to a new emotional level with a "cleaner" and "more contemporary" feel, said Ron Berger, a partner and creative director.

The campaign portrays "a single look and tone of voice," Mr. Berger said. "We wanted a simplicity about the idea that will translate around the world without confusing people."


Volvo Cars of North America plans to spend $5 million in measured media to support the campaign. Most of the buy is print, but each of the C70 vehicles has a TV commercial that will air in spot markets.

Print breaks in early June, and dealers can start running the TV spots as early as April, depending on availability of the C70s.

The C70 ads carry the new tag, "It will move you in ways Volvo never has."

The U.S. push also includes direct mail and Internet advertising.


The campaign amplifies a move started a year ago by Volvo to reposition its brand via new products with less-boxy styling and livelier, more fun advertising. Volvo introduced the C70 coupe last March in ads for the movie "The Saint." The car marketer sponsored the movie and the C70 appeared in the film.

"The C70 has to be followed by products that have a conceptual connection for the cars to work as an image catalyst," said auto expert James Hall, VP-industry analysis at consultancy AutoPacific. "If not, you have a stand-alone image car like [General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet] Corvette."

Volvo may be using the C70s to pave the new-image way for upcoming models that younger buyers can afford. The average age of a Volvo owner currently is 39.

However, with a starting price at about $39,000, the C70s are probably too pricey to attract twentysomethings, Mr. Austin conceded.


More in younger drivers' league may be the smaller, sleeker S40 sedans and V40 sportwagons, due in North America in mid-1999 as a 2000 model. Those vehicles will probably start at about $25,000, Automotive News reported.

Helge Alten, president-CEO of Volvo Cars of North America, said those new models will allow the carmaker to "reach a wider target audience . . . and tap into the pre-family segment" of younger buyers.

The carmaker aims to hike total worldwide sales to 500,000 by around 2001, from just under 400,000 in 1997. Volvo sold 90,894 vehicles in the U.S. last year, up 2.6% from 1996 and a 34% rise from '92, according to Automotive News.

Copyright March 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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