It’s Sweden vs. Germany as Volvo plays up its novelty value

Ze Germans have created an extremely valuable country brand based around reliability, precision and quality design and engineering, which has certainly helped the likes of VW, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz conquer the world’s roads. But Sweden is trying to find its niche, and in New Zealand it’s doing it with a ballsy new campaign for the new Volvo V40 hatchback that takes aim at the established German car brands and taps into the desire to be ‘Über Different’.  

“Volvo isn’t top of mind when it comes to luxury European cars,” says a Publicis Mojo release. “Most people stick to the same old German marques, making them less exclusive than perhaps the drivers would like. Especially in the highly competitive hatch market. I mean, you can’t throw a stone in Ponsonby without hitting a Golf. So with the launch of the new Volvo V40, we decided to use Volvo’s lack of market saturation as a strength and encourage a very brand conscious audience to dare to be different, while at the same time forcing our way into their consideration set.”

We’re quite partial to a bit of comparative advertising here at StopPress and, given the competitive nature of business, we’re surprised there’s not more of it. It can sometimes come across as a bit crass, as it often does in Australia, but, as Whittaker’s can attest, it can also work its socks off when it’s done well. And with billboards featuring phrases like ‘Yavwn,’ ‘Benzzzz’, ‘Booooring’ and ‘Predictabmwle’, as well as the likes of ‘Only $49,990 – that’s all, Volks’, ‘Welcome the new A-Rival’, and ‘Avoid the Teutonic Plague’, it seems to be playing the cheeky underdog card quite well.  

Given Volvo’s reputation for safety above fun and performance over the years, it could be a tough sell positioning it as the cool choice. But as general manager Steve Kenchington said at a media event in Auckland recently, the company has no choice. And given the current fascination with all things Scandinavian, from food to furniture to literature (check out AA Gill’s piece on the Scandinavian cultural invasion in Vanity Fair), there’s probably no better time for the Swedish brand to try and carve out a piece of a crowded, German-dominated segment.

“Our challenge is to convince the public that Volvo is a worthy competitor to the German brands,” he told Stuff. “We’ve got to get people into our showrooms to look at our product, and we’ve got to get bums on to our seats. So frankly it is time for us to roll up our sleeves.

In October, Volvo had already sold more cars than the whole of last year and it needs to finish with more than 275 sales to beat its best year in 2005. 

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