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Buy Volvos. They're Boxy But They're Good.

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Posted 11th June 2010 at 11:59 AM by Len Bailey
Updated 17th May 2011 at 10:00 AM by Len Bailey (Fixed images)

Buy Volvos. They’re Boxy
(But They’re Good).

A Crazy Lesson on Truth in Advertising

Ever see the movie Crazy People?

I love that movie. Not because of the actors (although Dudley Moore, Daryl Hannah, Paul Reiser, and the rest of the cast all put in solid performances). Rather, it’s the premise I love – the entire movie is about Truth in Advertising.

In the film, Dudley Moore plays an advertising executive going through a breakdown after his wife left him. Except he doesn’t see it as a breakdown – to him, it’s an epiphany. The guy gets so fed up with "traditional" ads that try to trick consumers, he works up a bunch of ads following one simple rule: Total honesty in advertising.

Of course, nobody agrees … and before you can say "meltdown" he’s sitting in a psych ward so he can "get better." But when his radical ads are accidentally put into production, they work like gangbusters. And by the end of the film, the patients have left the asylum and formed their own agency.

In a nutshell, the ads are hilarious …

Metamucil: We help you go to the toilet so you won’t get cancer and die.

AT&T: You may think phone service stinks since deregulation, but don’t mess with us, because we’re all you’ve got. In fact, if we fold, you’ll have no damn phones. AT&T - We’re tired of taking your crap!

Paramount Pictures: Paramount Pictures presents The Freak. This movie won’t just scare you, it will #$%@ you up for life.

And then there’s my favorite, an ad for Volvo …

I apologize for the quality of the image – I wasn’t able to find a better one. In case you can’t read it, the copy reads:

Buy Volvos. They’re boxy but they’re good. We know they’re not sexy. This is not a smart time to be sexy anyway, with so many new diseases around. Be safe instead of sexy. Volvo – Boxy but good.

Maybe it’s just me, but I chuckle every time I read that …

First, I laugh because I can just picture car dealers and ad managers alike having fits were that ad to actually run. Mostly, it’s because this ad isn’t much of a stretch from Volvo’s traditional ads. The company has always emphasized its cars’ safety features in their advertising.

As you can clearly see in the copy of this week’s Swipe.

I’m not sure who wrote and designed this classic Volvo advertisement, but if you compare it to the Ogilvy ad we featured a while back, you’ll see it incorporates some of the same principles.

Notice the size the photo featuring the product – and its placement above the copy. David Ogilvy stressed again and again how this placement catches your prospect’s eye and makes him or her much more likely to read your copy.

And while the copy is arranged presented differently, the copywriter – like Ogilvy – reveals interesting features not usually seen in ads of the time. Such as the subhead focusing on both acceleration and braking.

Finally, the copy in the ad does a credible job presenting the Volvo 164 as the perfect car for the consumer who’s counting his pennies but still wants a touch of class. The price is justified … the quality of the product highlighted … and there’s a great balance of copy focusing on the excitement the product delivers and the practicality of the purchase.

So be sure to study this one carefully. You can download it now by clicking here.

Until next time …

Best wishes for success,

Len Bailey

PS: Want more great swipes for your collection? Check out my Twitter feed at: Len Bailey (LenBailey) on Twitter.

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  1. New Comment
    Len Bailey's Avatar
    Hey, folks… I have some more information about this ad. And while they weren’t able to tell us the results, they were kind enough to share some insights into the thought process behind their advertising…

    Here’s what Dan Johnston (Product Communications guy for Volvo Cars of North America) had to say:

    “There is no one here from that era, except me, and I wasn’t doing advertising back then, nor now. In those days, what we needed to do was trade off our Swedishness, that what we do is about value, durability, quality, gosh something IKEA does today. Swedish design mentality is one of building something that lasts, even in terms of styling. In those days square box design crushed very well, good accident protection, again very Swedish to have a belief that whatever we do, it is about protecting people. In 1927 our founders wrote that concept as our charter for what we will be doing.

    “Not certain if that particular advertisement single handedly increased sales on 164’s. What it did do and all our advertising was toned for, was value and safety. As you can imagine the kicker was we had to deliver. Funny, when a Swede makes a promise, 99% of the time they keep it. With truthful advertising, product that supports our claims, we have delivered what customers expect.

    I know this isn’t what you were looking for but there are no people around who would remember is that ad was effective. I’d say that all our ads in those days were clever, support a brand promise, and helped up sell Swedish cars to Americans.

    “Marketing is about branding. Keeping a promise. Few believe corporate advertising these days, they look to media to judge products.

    “If you want an automotive example of how to ruin a brand, look at Nissan. In the ‘60 Datsun was a cheap, fun to drive, throw away car. Toyota was well built, Honda quality, Subaru cheap awd wagons. Datsun was forced to change their name to Nissan and no one knew what a Nissan was, they had to start all over. In fact, even today, you would be hard pressed to find from consumers what Nissan stands for. Brands are not made, nor changed over night. All too often marketing people stray from what the brand is about, in an effort to modernize a brand, they loose the equity of whatever was before their changes. Just like when MB tried to sell entry level cars, to capture more market share, buyers just would not accept that change, MB is all about my arriving in life, my ability to afford a prestigious car. Marketing people really need to understand what a brand is about, at very deep gut level, take away the icing and what is that cake made from kind of research. Tough for marketing/advertising people who don’t live the brand to understand all its funny little sweet spots.”

    Hope this helps!

    Until next time…

    Best wishes for success!


    PS - Dan was also nice enough to share another classic Volvo ad with us. You can view or download it here:
    Posted 18th June 2010 at 08:34 AM by Len Bailey Len Bailey is offline
    Updated 17th May 2011 at 10:45 AM by Len Bailey (Fixed Photo Link)

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