I’ve seen a lot of praise heaped upon the Volvo Trucks video featuring the “Epic Split” by Jean Claude Van Damme. Personally, I had two flashbacks.
First, I pictured Van Damme’s torturous martial arts training in the movie Bloodsport. This was my introduction to the Van Damme split, but in this case, his ankles were tied to two trees and he was being “stretched.” Ouch.
Second, I was horrified to hear the resurrection of Enya’s Only Time, a song I played ad nauseam during the tail end of my time as a radio deejay. It was enough to make me say matté (Bloodsport reference).
As of this writing, the video has been viewed more than 64 million times. If you’re not among the 64 million, behold… the Epic Split.
I’m guessing at least 63.9 million of those views are from people like me who aren’t in the market for a Volvo commercial truck and didn’t pay much attention to the truck-related information at the end.
Apparently, Volvo’s agency wanted to generate buzz inside its target by first generating buzz outside its target. Whether or not that strategy works still remains to be seen.
Here’s the thing. Several organizations have already “honored” Volvo with awards for this video.
For what? Creativity?
This is why I stopped caring about industry awards many years ago. Awards look nice on the wall and they make my mom and dad proud – actually, my awards hang on their walls – but they don’t mean a damn thing unless they put money in my clients’ pockets.
Question 1: Did The Video Drive Sales?
This is the million dollar question. Literally.
Volvo did report a 31 percent boost in truck sales for November compared to the previous year, but even Volvo says this boost is most likely the result of tougher emissions regulations that go into effect this month.
And the Van Damme video wasn’t released until halfway through November – the last of six “Live Test” videos released during the past year and a half to promote different features of Volvo trucks.
At this point, we don’t know what kind of sales impact the video had or continues to have, if any.
Question 2: Does The Video Appeal To The Right Audience?
Is the type of customer who is going to invest in commercial trucks – in many cases, a boardroom full of number crunchers – really going to be swayed by this type of stunt?
Upon further investigation, I found that Volvo Dynamic Steering, which this video was created to demonstrate, adjusts about 2,000 times per second to deliver ultra-precise steering performance.
Apparently, you can steer with one finger, at least at low speeds, and you can drive in reverse for a long distance without drifting off course.
So that’s why those trucks in the video were going backwards. Got it. But you wouldn’t get any of this from the video.
Volvo claims image and innovation are very important for their customers. I get that to a degree.
I just find it hard to believe that image and innovation would rank anywhere near the top of the list of factors that ultimately influence the purchasing decisions of this target audience.
Question 3: Is The Hype Warranted?
I don’t think so. At least not yet. Let’s see how many truck sales can be directly attributed to this video before bestowing more awards upon Volvo Trucks – unless you only judge advertising effectiveness based on creativity.
And those calling this the best automotive ad in history need to relax.
Again, this is one of six videos. This one killed, but the other five were largely ignored.
With the Van Damme video, my problem isn’t necessarily with the creativity, although I agree with Jerry Seinfeld, who recently said car companies need to stop filming ads on abandoned highways in the desert.
I actually love this approach for a consumer audience. I can see someone going to a Volvo dealership to at least check out a car based on a video that powerfully demonstrates, let’s say, safety features, which Volvo has long been known for.
I just don’t see how this approach plays in the C-suite.
Impressive stunt? Yes. Is it getting people to talk about Volvo? I guess so.
Is the stunt impressive enough to factor into a purchase of commercial trucks? Not in my view, but the jury’s still out.
The Danger Of Creativity
As everyone struggles to get noticed and shared in a sea of crappy content, too many content creators get caught up with trying to be clever, funny or shocking, and too many agencies get caught up with trying to win awards.
Unfortunately, being clever, funny or shocking is useless if you don’t deliver your message clearly to the right audience.
Be relevant, valuable and helpful with your content first, and make sure you get it in front of the right people. If you can use some form of creativity to give your content more impact without affecting the clarity of your message, that’s great.
If you’re being creative for the sake of being creative or other selfish reasons and your message is lost, you’re wasting your time and money.
I always think of the giant inflatable gorilla that you often see at an auto dealership during a big sale. It might get people to slow down and look, much like they would if they saw a car accident, but will it get them to buy?
There’s one thing worse than being ignored. It’s having people form a negative opinion of your company because your attempt at creativity was lame, misunderstood or in poor taste.
Don’t be the giant inflatable gorilla.