Features & Interviews Sales Trailer Truck

How epic videos helped Volvo Trucks find new audiences

24 March 2014 #Features & Interviews #Sales #Trailer #Truck

In August 2012 Volvo Trucks started out on a journey which would end with one of the most-viewed online videos of all time.

The Ballerina Stunt (Live Test One) was the first of six high-quality videos that the manufacturer commissioned to showcase the strength, agility and precision of its trucks.

The series was designed to raise the profile of the brand and penetrate new markets and it would, ultimately, create an online sensation that must surely have exceeded the company’s wildest expectations.

The Ballerina stunt involved record-breaking highline artist Faith Dickey walking between two trucks as they sped towards a tunnel on a closed motorway in Croatia.

Like the last in the Live Test series, a key message from the video is about the accuracy of the trucks speed and Dynamic Steering controls. It has now been watched nearly ten million times.

Volvo Trucks then moved its film crew, stunt coordinators, drivers and medical staff from Croatia to Spain.

It also recruited the help of an unusual new team member to steer an FMX from the bottom of a quarry in Ourense to the top – Charlie the hamster.

He was coaxed with food to run in a cage attached to the steering wheel to drive the truck in The Hamster Stunt (Live Test Two).

Staying in Spain, Volvo then raced an FL through the streets of Rodrigo chased by bulls in The Chase (Live Test Three).

The Hook (Live Test Four) is a shorter video and simply involves Volvo Truck President Claes Nilsson telling us that the new FMX is robust.

Simple, that is, until the single helicopter shot pulls back to reveal him standing on the grille of an FMX as it dangles over Gothenburg port.

The Technician (Live Test Five) features Volvo’s Roland Svensson’s 275mm head, an important dimension considering the clearance with the FMX that drives over him.

The coup de grace of the series is delivered by Jean-Claude Van Damme in The Epic Split (Live Test Six).

Another showcase of speed and steering control, the video has been viewed 71,128,998 at the time of writing (07:45 on Wednesday 26 March), so it will be interesting to see how many more views it has by the time you read this.

There was no automatic control of the trucks in the one-shot video, so it’s a real testament to the skill of the drivers that they were able to marshal their abilities and the accuracy of the Dynamic Steering. The steering motors receive 2,000 signals a second from sensors, but it was still in the hands of the drivers to keep Van Damme upright.

His feet weren’t fixed to the mirrors, as is commonly thought, but Video Director Andreas Nilsson did tell the Wall Street Journal that there was a safety rig to make sure they didn’t kill the ‘Muscles from Brussels’ if he fell.

There were lots of rehearsals, of course, but the final result is from the first, seamless take which had to be shot in a 15-minute window to catch the sunrise at its best.

“The tension was really high,” said Nilsson. “I saw a tough stunt coordinator swell up after we nailed it. That might actually be the nicest memory from the shoot.”

Ten million watched Faith Dickey in the next most viewed of the series in which numbers dip below a still highly creditable one million for Roland Svensson. Volvo must have expected Van Damme to do well, but could it really have predicted more than 70 million views?

How does Volvo gauge its success beyond bald YouTube viewing numbers? How quick was the impact?

Volvo’s Marie Vassiliadis is responsible for the PR and Marketing around the project and said, “It is by far our biggest communication success and we are still overwhelmed by it.

“We measure in terms of likes, favorites, comments and shares. The Epic Split was released on YouTube on 14 November and within the first 24 hours it had been viewed more than 6.5 million times and shared more than 32,000 times. On 15 November it became the most shared film on YouTube.

“The Epic Split became the most viewed automotive commercial on Youtube ever when it reached more than 59 million views four weeks after the launch.”

Besides music videos it’s one of the most viewed videos ever, which is all very nice, but how does it help to sell trucks? The world is changing, says Volvo, so it wanted to plug into new audiences in an innovative manner.

“We wanted to create a campaign that communicated our trucks in a new and spectacular way, and so the Live Tests were born,” says Vassiliadis.

“The goals with the campaign were twofold – building brand awareness among broad target groups and to pave the way for sales to our core target groups.

“Our ambition is that the engagement the film has spurred will drive both awareness and demand for our trucks. We have had an incredible upsurge of interactions and awareness in social media and through our websites as well as via our global network of dealers.

“Building brand awareness broadly has helped pave the way for sales since it potentially influences the purchase decision among our core target groups.

Still, you can’t directly count truck sales that are attributable to the campaign as easily as you can count YouTube views and, unfortunately for Volvo Trucks not with the same kinds of numbers.

When much of Volvo Trucks’ marketing material in the UK focuses around the importance of running costs, hasn’t the project simply been a very expensive way to brand build?

Besides recruiting the talents of people like Van Damme, the production values on the videos are incredibly high. It will have taken months of planning to execute each, so it can’t have come cheap.

“We do not disclose any budget figures,” Vassiliadis says, “but compared to traditional advertising, this is a very cost effective way of communicating and reaching a wide target audience.

“When we look at the return on investment of the whole viral campaign, we can see that our communication strategy has been extremely cost efficient.”

Is this now the end of the road for the series? After notching up the most-watched automotive video, with numbers that Top Gear would be envious of, it would be hard to top.

“We can’t reveal anything of future plans but we can say that we will continue to be innovative in our communication,” comes an ironically very standard reply. Watch this space…

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