How to sell a brand that sports exactly one modelrange in a world of abundance? Volvo advertorials tried it using its strongest point, rugged safety.
In the sixties and seventies we find a few car manufacturers that manage to create a perfect image through their advertising departments. Volvo is one of those brands. In the early seventies Bob Austin (what’s in a name) is Volvo Cars of America’s head of public relations. The campaigns Volvo creates under his reign invariably aim at the almost boring solidity of their own product, although always in a way that puts Volvo way above its competition. From ‘A wagon built to carry cargo more precious than groceries’, aiming at safe transportation of the entire family, to ‘How to survive a midlife crisis with dignity’, where the Volvo Turbo’s performance should outsource the obligatory sports car, every Volvo campaign has that same cynical undertone towards the other manufacturers. The start of all of this is an ad simply showing a stack of Volvo’s 140. ‘Are you in the market for a hardtop?’, the slogan says. The first stone is cast.
Every year PR and advertising people visited the factory in Sweden, talking about the cars with the engineers and developers. Why were the cars made en shaped like this? What were the latest developments and why? During one of these meetings somewhere in 1969 the commercial guys get inspired for the stacked Volvo’s advert. The safety geeks were visited by a bunch of advertising guys and dolls and just couldn’t stop repeating their story on how strong the roof they created really was. Why collisions with elks required the strongest possible A-pillars. Collisions that were quite common in Sweden in those days, since the elks just weren’t that cautious whilst crossing the roads back then. Besides that the quality of the countries back roads wasn’t great and extremely bad weather conditions just as common. A combination that often enough led to Volvo’s landing on their roof.Therefor the roof or actually every single pillar needed to be capable of carrying the weight of the entire vehicle.
These kind of stories immediately trigger ideas, ideas that easily get out of hand when fed some aquavit in the cold Swedish night. When every single roof pillar can cary one vehicle, the entire roof should be capable of holding up six cars, right? So one Volvo should be able to carry six Volvo’s. The engineers, who had safely spent the night in their own beds, were confronted with the stacked Volvo’s theory in the morning. They looked at the PR-people as if they had completely lost their minds. Nu such thing though, thus the technicians set out to calculate that this simple theory should work, be it that they took great care in weight distribution and the cars would be stacked with their fronts alternately facing different directions. It could be done. Boxy constructions were designed to position beneath and between the cars to spread the weigh evenly over the roofs construction. Alas this genious idea proved to be to costly to execute and the whole idea disappeared into the corner.
However, sometimes providence and lady luck do help each other out. In 1970 a hurricane blasts through Galveston, Texas. Leaving the port and a shipment of Volvo 140’s waiting for distribution in the US flooded. In stead of shredding the Volvo’s right away, they are now used to create the stacked Volvo advert after all. With an enormous building crane, a few camera’s and actor Ralph Meeks, who will do the voice over, one commences. Camera’s are rolling overtime and one by one they capture the stacking of seven Volvo’s on top of one another. The stack is slightly stabilized by wire, to prevent it from being blown over by the wind. When the eight car is hoisted into the air, the wind picks up, causing the stack to tilt and finally keel over. Number eight remains suspended in the air purposeless.
In 1971 the campaign is first broadcasted and the ads with the now famous picture makes it appearance in print. The clearly show that Volvo’s are safe, solid cars, built to protect you and your family. An image they sure managed to create.