A powerful new global campaign from Volvo reminds us that seatbelts, when first introduced, were widely seen as a "terrible idea." And at a time when other public health measures are often criticized, it's an idea that resonates.
A black-and-white spot by Forsman & Bodenfors opens with real-life survivors of car crashes reading out a series of quotes from the media after Volvo first introduced its three point seatbelt in 1959. The media was brutal; according to the ad, even The New York Times called the idea of mandatory seatbelt wearing a "violation of human rights" and other news reports quoted studies saying the seatbelts would be ineffective.
The ad goes on to hear more from these survivors about their experiences, and how seatbelts were responsible for saving their lives, before highlighting some of Volvo's new safety features such as speed limits on all cars and in-car cameras to help prevent drunk or distracted driving.
“Using critical voices from the past became a creative bridge to Volvo’s safety vision and future technology," said Leo Dal, creative at Forsman & Bodenfors in Gothenburg in a statement. "The reactions from survivors who have experienced a car crash allowed us to talk about this in an emotional yet hopeful way."
The film was directed by Laerke Hethoni at New Land and features an original score by European composer Jacob Mühlrad. It's airing globally on TV, out-of-home ads and social channels and is part of an ongoing wider campaign focused on the brand's safety credentials.
Update, November 3, 2020: Volvo has agreed to alter the ad and remove reference to the New York Times after a complaint from the newspaper.
In an email to Ad Age, a spokeswoman for the New York Times said it had asked Volvo to remove the reference, stating: "It appears Volvo is referring to statements by an advocate against the seatbelt laws who wrote a letter to the editor and was quoted in a news story (here and here in 1986). We can find no other instance of those words in an editorial, news story or column."
A spokeswoman for Volvo Cars in Sweden said: "We are aware of a concern raised by the New York Times regarding our current ‘A Million More’ marketing campaign. In an accommodation to the New York Times, we will remove the reference to its reporting from all campaign assets."