Mar 23 2012

Volvo Risks ‘Safe’ Brand Promise to Be Cool

Published by at 9:33 pm under Idea Driven Marketing

Just as “Linsanity” seems to be waning, Volvo debuts its first new full page ad in the NY Times today to tout its big new endorsement deal with the NY Knicks wunderkind Jeremy Lin.

The ad’s headline uses the following attributes to link Lin with the Volvo brand: Intelligent, Driven and Brilliant Performer. All good attributes, but none have anything to do with Volvo’s longstanding, very differentiated brand essence: safety.

Readers of this blog know what a premium I put on consistency and clarity in building a strong, compelling and differentiated brand. Focusing on these key brand attributes help ensure that people actually care about your brand and your messaging.

Volvo has been pretty successful over the years by sticking with its “safety” brand essence — their brand promise. Now I realize that since Volvo was sold last year to a Chinese company, the new owners and management have wanted to re-energize and reboot the Volvo brand for greater sales in the critical US market, and also in the rapidly expanding Chinese auto market. What do the Chinese car buyers like: they like glitzy. snazzy, gold encrusted cars. They like bling. Volvo has always been the antithesis of bling and snazzy!

So Volvo is coming out with some snappy new products that are supposed to appeal to younger buyers. And, to really show the world that they are trying to do something different, Volvo unveils its big new endorsement deal with Jeremy Lin.

Lin will probably help Volvo with Chinese (and probably other Asians) buyers in China, and to a lesser degree in the US. The company’s snazzy new designs should help, too. But, if Volvo is not very careful and clever, these gains could be completely wiped out by the potential damage that could be done to Volvo’s hard won brand identity by moving away from its well established “safety” promise.

Volvo is rolling the dice on this one. Other smart auto brands are already pushing their own safety messages to appeal to the families that don’t care about glitz and endorsements and just want a very safe car to protect their precious little Madison’s and Jaden’s.

So Jeremy, do you really drive a Volvo?

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