By Don Klein
Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.
Upon casual viewing, Volvo’s S60 commercial appears simply to be a modern take on an old fairy tale wherein good triumphs over evil. The commercial opens in a dark, spooky forest. Cut to distant headlights piercing the misty fog. A series of beauty shots reveals they’re coming from a blood red S60 being driven by a handsome young father. While all this is taking place, we hear Sam the Sham and the Pharaoh’s iconic ’60s hit “Li’l Red Riding Hood,” freshly (and excellently) covered by Laura Gibson.
Suddenly the Volvo screeches to a halt as it encounters a wolf roadblock. Well, it consists of just one wolf, but this particular critter (a professional stunt animal whose name in real life is Kane) is pretty big and has a nasty, toothy snarl, so he gets the job done on his own. He holds the Volvo at bay by baying until the S60 revs up and lets loose a snarl of its own, at which point Kane turns into a sniveling puddle of wolf pudding and sulks off.
Triumphant, Volvo Dad drives on, turning as he does to ask his adorable little daughter (who is art directed to the teeth in a red hooded jacket), “What does the wolf say?” Safely ensconced in her Volvo OEM child seat, she leans back, closes her eyes, and reels off her best Sam the Sham “Ahooooo!” (Although, based on what she just witnessed, shouldn’t she have made little whimpering noises?)
Thanks to top-notch cinematography and directing, the spot is eye-catching and fun to watch. And its implied message that Volvos are safe havens in an unsafe world is totally in keeping with the brand’s DNA. But the commercial commits the ultimate sin of hanging its hat on something that’s not specific to the product: Any car will trump a wolf. It doesn’t need to be a Volvo, it doesn’t need to have a turbocharged engine, and it certainly doesn’t need to be red. Even wolf pups know that sheetmetal of any make or model wreaks havoc on the fangs, not to mention the digestive system. Besides, people don’t need much “protecting from” wolves anyway: The number of fatal attacks by wolves in the past 100 years is minuscule. So even if you’re wearing Lady Gaga’s meat dress and driving a Miata with the top down, you’re probably going to live to tell the tale.
But of course, this commercial isn’t really about Little Red Riding Hood. It’s about Volvo’s massive product placement investment in the Twilight movie franchise. That handsome Volvo Dad? He’s supposed to evoke Edward, Twilight’s leading vampire, who’s really a decent and nurturing chap despite the fact that he wants to suck your blood. Apparently, women find him irresistible. Or at least the kind of women who buy Volvos.
If you’re not a “Twifan,” this might not make a whole lot of sense. But millions of people—often young, often female—have paid big cash to see the Twilight films. In its first two weeks alone, Breaking Dawn: Part 2 grossed $237 million in total domestic ticket sales. And guess what Edward drives in the flick? (Hint: it’s Swedish and begins with V).
So in fact, this commercial is designed more to reinforce the product-placement deal and its extensive social-media effort than meets your big eyes. And given the franchise’s phenomenal success with a big chunk of Volvo’s target audience, that’s not a dumb thing. Yes, the spot sort of stands on its own, but in the absence of a Twilight deal, do you really think this is the way Volvo would pitch the ostensibly male-oriented S60 sports sedan? Neither do I.
Source: Car & Driver