Businesses around the world are striving to achieve a breakthrough in social media, an important new channel for marketing and corporate communications. This, however, is easier said than done.
Industrial PRIME can think of at least one company that has managed to solve this great mystery. And since said company cracked the code with an enormous bang, we felt compelled to share the story of the company whose masterpieces shook the marketing world and reached the kind of coverage many do not even dare to dream of.
We flew to Gothenburg, the second-largest city in Sweden, to check out the capital of Volvo and have a talk with one of the men behind the phenomenon.
There are great commercial videos on YouTube. And then there is the Epic Split.
World’s Most Modern Trucks
Volvo was established in Gothenburg in 1927. The biggest company and the biggest employer in its native Sweden, the entire Volvo Group nowadays employs over 110,000 people globally.
Since 1999, Volvo Cars has no longer been part of the Volvo Group. Yet Volvo was better known for its cars rather than for its trucks all the way until 2012, when the tables were turned. But more on that later. First, allow us to introduce to you Mr Lars Terling, Director of the Volvo Trucks heavy duty and construction product line.
Mr Terling has worked for Volvo for no less than 36 years. During that time, he has held various posts in the organization and seen plenty of action.
“Volvo is a fantastic company to work for, because it has big entities all over the world,” he enthuses. “We are represented in 140 countries, so I’ve been travelling from China to Peru to New Zealand to Chile. You really get to see a lot.”
In 2011, Mr Terling took the helm at Volvo Trucks’ central, Gothenburg-based marketing communications team. It is a dynamic team consisting of roughly thirty professionals and supported by a strong network of units and specialists in various locations across the globe. As you might expect from a company operating in 140 countries, the cross-border cooperation works seamlessly.
When Mr Terling came on board the marketing communications team in 2011, Volvo Trucks was beginning to prepare for a major product launch: the Volvo FH, a heavy truck range originally introduced in 1993, would be re-launched in 2012 with significant technology upgrades.
The FH re-launch set in motion a series of product upgrades, thanks to which Volvo now boasts the most modern truck range in the entire world.
However, the product upgrades were not the only thing that the re-launch set in motion. As the re-launch was getting closer, the marketing communications people at Volvo Trucks decided they would come up with something completely new. The rest is advertising history.
“A lot of technological innovations were introduced with the new FH range,” says Terling. “We were sitting there looking at one of the trucks, and we understood that this was a very advanced product, completely different from anything we’d produced in the past. For us, this meant a challenge: we would also have to do something in the same magnitude of innovation as the truck range itself.”
That is when a team was put together to come up with a new communications strategy. The goal was to utilize web-based communications and change the general public’s tendency of associating Volvo mainly with cars rather than trucks.
(…as long as you can do a split.)
Forsman & Bodenfors, the now world-renowned agency that created the groundbreaking videos with Volvo Trucks, was initially not at all interested in the job.
“They found trucks and business-to-business advertising quite boring!” Terling laughs. “But we persisted, and when we told them we were looking for something completely different from what we’d ever done in the past, and that we were also aiming for a much wider audience, they eventually changed their minds and came on board.”
The goal of the marketing campaign was to showcase in a spectacular way the new features that Volvo Trucks was introducing with the upgraded FH range. Among the features was a brand new steering chassis that was much more stable than anything else in the industry.
Hence, the Ballerina Stunt. The first in a series of imaginative live tests, this breathtaking three-minute video features a slackliner walking a tightrope between two Volvo trucks that are speeding down a closed highway towards a tunnel.
The video was a huge success, and it has been viewed over ten million times since it was uploaded to YouTube in August 2012.
The real hit, however, followed in 2013 with a video produced to demonstrate the stability and precision of Volvo Dynamic Steering.
Titled the Epic Split, the video features actor and martial artist Jean-Claude van Damme standing on the side mirrors between two Volvo FM trucks while they are reversing.
As the camera zooms out, the distance between the two trucks grows and van Damme performs a jaw-dropping split. (Although, in Terling’s words, the stunt was not difficult at all, “as long as you can do a split”. Instead, it was Volvo Dynamic Steering that made the stunt possible.) The beautifully shot scene is accompanied by Enya’s “Only Time” and the gorgeous view of the rising sun in the background.
Released 14 November 2013, the Epic Split became an instant hit. The day after its release, it was the most shared video in the entire world. And once the media began to pick up the success, things started to escalate. Suddenly the video was all over the news, everywhere.
The Volvo FM truck that was seen reversing in the Epic Split was driven in front of the Volvo Trucks headquarters for our photo shoot. Unfortunately, there being only one of them meant that the Epic Split II was left for someone else to shoot.
Establishing Global Reputation
With more than 81 million views, the Epic Split is the most-viewed automotive advertisement ever on YouTube. But how on earth was YouTube chosen as the main channel for a truck manufacturer’s marketing communications?
Mr Terling points out that thanks to the earlier success of the Ballerina Stunt and other videos Volvo Trucks had released, he and his team had been confident that YouTube would be the channel to go for.
“We saw that our films could be very successful on YouTube,” he recalls. “That way, advertising could also be extremely cost-efficient. And in our industry, which is business-to-business, we didn’t really feel that TV commercials were the thing to do anyway.”
Today, Volvo Trucks has a large online fan base following the company and looking forward to see more of what it will come up with. But that was not always the case.
Take for instance Volvo Trucks’ global Facebook page. Prior to the new marketing strategy and the YouTube video campaigns, the page had a mere 16,000 followers. Now the figure is over 500,000. Add to that local pages in countries like Brazil, and Volvo Trucks has over a million followers on Facebook alone. How many truck manufacturers can say the same?
“With such a large fan base, social media offers us great opportunities,” says Terling. “But you cannot take it for granted. You have to be there every day and give your audience bits and pieces. You must also engage yourself in dialogues, discussions, and debates in order to maintain your visibility.”
According to Mr Terling, the biggest advantage brought by the success and the grown fan base in social media is that it has created a drastic increase in the flow of visitors to Volvo Trucks’ official website. That means the fans are not merely interested in the show they are offered, but in fact they also want to learn more about the products.
Whether the Epic Split and the resulting increase in online traffic did actually put more Volvo trucks out there in the real traffic, Mr Terling cannot say for sure. But there is one thing that cannot be denied: Volvo Trucks is now better known around the world than ever before. Not only that, the company has also managed to achieve such fame in a very cost-efficient way.
“Moving into this direction has also been a way for us of getting more done for less money,” Terling points out. “Shooting films naturally costs quite a bit, but it is nevertheless the more cost-efficient path. Traditional advertising is extremely expensive, so we chose to try and find alternative channels.”
Following the re-launch of the FH range and the accompanying video commercials, Volvo’s market shares have been growing practically all over the world. In addition, surveys have shown that the share of customers considering Volvo’s trucks has increased significantly.
“For sure, these improvements have been the result of good organization and great trucks,” Terling says. “But I’m very confident that our new way of communicating has played a major part in the changes as well. Thanks to our new strategy, we managed to create a large global awareness for our brand.”
It looks like the future of marketing communications truly lies in the digital world instead of print and other traditional channels. Mr Terling agrees, believing also that in the future there will be less and less of text, as infomercials and the accompanying social media channels are proving increasingly effective.
We have one last question for Mr Terling: when are we going to see another Epic Split?
“I think something like that happens only once every hundred years!” Terling laughs. “But you can rest assured that you will definitely be hearing from Volvo Trucks again.”
Text and images by Industrial PRIME
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