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Why Volvo shows how PR can keep on truckin’

15th October 2013


This week’s Idea of the Week is really an Idea of the Month.

Regular watchers of the stunt world will not have missed the fact that Volvo Trucks has suddenly become rather active in their self-promotion.

We've seen a sequence of stunning pieces of content - the hamster, the tightrope walkers and, most recently, a truck doing the running of the bulls.

Here they are in all their glory:



There are (at least) five things that are fascinating here:

Firstly, it is surprising just how much cash Volvo is sinking into content. In fact they've taken the sum total of their marketing spend and put it all into a series of shareable "ads" to get people talking.

And secondly, it's also quite shocking that Volvo believed that people will talk about them. It's a helluva bet after all  – "let's spend X million making these films but not buy any media at all because people will want to watch them" is a pretty ballsy argument to advance by either an ad agency OR by a client selling that as a strategy internally. It's a job on the line moment that, in this case, appears to have paid off.

Thirdly, I thought it was significant of a wider shift that ad agencies (generally known for hammering the message home about a functional product such as a truck and saying whatever they want because the space has been paid for) are getting used to an editorial (or entertainment) approach. Showing handling with a hamster, showing manoeuvrability with some bulls and demoing straight line driving with a tightrope is a novel approach. It may not deliver the message direct but it sure does deliver the message.


Fourth, I thought that the Volvo work was a lesson in integration. Once upon a time, ad-land wanted to work with PRs but didn't know how to. Now, with campaigns like this one, ad-land HAS to work with PRs. We are the masters of the media they need for their crafted content to achieve its aim – getting people talking and sharing. This could be wildly optimistic of course, but a world in which marketing teams need PRs and the expertise we offer is only good news for those of us plying our trade in the latter corner of the marketing industry.

And finally, I'd observe, the fact that content has become digital and that digital content has meant that it is intrinsically social means that we are all consumers now. Once upon a time, a marketing campaign for trucks would've done trade, decision maker DM, a few trade shows and some trade advertising. Hum drum. But practical.

Now we are all consumers. The trade media is slowly dying – changing for sure but the long term tide is not great. The small and medium business media has diminished to next to nothing.

So we are all just people. Not business owners or PRs or (as in this case) truck purchasers. Punters first, foremost and only. The rise of digital means that ad-land doesn't pay wastage anymore and, while they may need a bit of luck to hit their audience square on, the fact that they aren't paying to reach plebs like us means they can spend more on the content.


So the conclusion? That once again this is a campaign that points to an interesting but unsettling future. One in which content rules and in which those who make the content has shifted too.

But one thing should give everyone hope ... if PR becomes the discipline that holds the access to an audience then we've a bright future. Because if we can position ourselves as the media "earners" rather than buyers of the future, we become even more central to the mix. And that can only be a good thing.

James Gordon-MacIntosh is founder and Managing Partner at Hope&Glory PR. He is also author of Ideas of the Year 2012: an incomplete compendium of the best ideas in PR during the year. You can buy a copy simply by emailing him.



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