What the New Volvo Ad Teaches Us About Marketing

Volvo’s new “Care by Volvo” ad (screenshot)

Volvo’s new “Care by Volvo” ad (screenshot)

Don’t buy your next car!

That’s the key message in Volvo’s brand new commercial. Pretty unconventional, unorthodox and at most — genius!

Delivery trucks are speeding through metropolitan streets. Unwrapped boxes of unused sneakers chase across the screen. People are hypnotically staring at a flood of commercials. The sound of ringing tills chimes in the background. Masses of people aggressively stream through a door of a clothing store. They pry fashion items out of each other’s hands. The melancholic music bursts. “By not owning things, you are not owned by things” appears on the end frame.

That’s Volvo’s new commercial. It’s a philosophical statement against modern consumerism. Volvo doesn’t want you to buy your next car. Volvo wants you to subscribe to your next car. The spot namely promotes its “Care by Volvo” program for the new XC40 SUV. This program is more than an ordinary leasing offering: Volvo does not only take care of all the essentials (insurance, maintenance, repairs etc.) but also extras like a concierge service are included. The customer obtains more free time, more flexibility and an easier life. Volvo has intelligently designed an offering that allows the consumer to escape the capitalistic marketplace while still participating in it.

Commercial “The New Volvo X40 With Care By Volvo”

However, we believe that the way Volvo communicates this offering says a lot about marketing strategy in today’s world (and about branding and advertising as well!).

1. Cultural currency x cultural bedrock

The Financial Times just made a case for digital detox and argued to quit smartphones. Younger shoppers say that experiences are more important than possessions. And beauty influencers encourage millennials to buy less make-up.

Anti-consumerism seems to be on the rise. Consumption becomes more conscious and living more mindful. Volvo resonates with this fashion of the moment. It turns itself into a zeitgeist currency that derives from the contemporary culture shaping the consumer’s social space and its mind-set. Also, Volvo leverages enduring core values that are deeply grounded in our Western ideology. It’s the value of freedom. Not possessing but subscribing to a car makes you free. Volvo’s new offering beautifully resonates with this cultural bedrock. In this way, the Volvo’s brand meaning becomes a product of co-creation by the consumer’s life-world and the culture it’s embedded in.

2. A resource to build identity

Traditional orientation systems (such as family, state, religion) lack traction in our postmodern society. Hence, consumers use brands to express who they are, what they believe in and what they value. Brands become tools to build the identity that the consumer has freely chosen. In this sense, Volvo’s new ad positions the brand as an ideological-political actor for freedom, mindfulness and anti-consumerism. Volvo functions as a symbol. It means something. It stands for a particular set of values, attitudes and lifestyles. Consumers can now employ Volvo in order to express who they are.

3. Volvo doesn’t sell a car but a service

We’ve heard it all. Nike doesn’t sell shoes but a sense of life. Harley Davidson doesn’t sell motorbikes but access to a community. We all know that brands move from a functional value proposition to a more emotional one. However, Volvo is slightly different — and slightly better. Volvo doesn’t sell a car but a service. It’s the service of transportation. That’s a huge difference with a huge impact.

This service-oriented perspective namely allows Volvo to focus on the job the brand does for the consumer. It’s the job to bring you from A to B. And this can happen by a car that you own yourself. Or by a car that you subscribe to. Or by a car that drives for you. The job stems from the consumer’s needs and is neither limited to a particular industry nor a technique. It thus allows Volvo to realize its value more broadly and opens the door for innovative offerings. The envisioning of entirely new markets becomes boundless.

Volvo’s 3 insights for marketing, branding and advertising strategy | © charles&charlotte

Volvo’s 3 insights for marketing, branding and advertising strategy | © charles&charlotte

To sum up, the new Volvo commercial teaches us three insights of modern marketing. First, brand meaning is co-created and needs to be grounded in the consumer’s socio-cultural life-world. Second, consumers use brands to symbolically express who they are. And third, a service-oriented value proposition gives a brand more room to innovate its offerings and to truly fulfill the job the consumer is looking for.


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