By Seb Joseph | News editor

June 24, 2015 | 4 min read

Volvo wants its brand purpose to stand for something beyond the steel frame of its vehicles, a mindset reflected in its Cannes Lions Grand Prix winning Lifepaint campaign’s focus on safety outside the car rather than inside it.

In a market where brand value is derived from performance relative to competition, the Swedish car marque needs its value to transcend the emotional imagery frequently used by its peers to enrich their functional qualities. The aim is to produce more marketing that takes the innovations of its cars, like its IntelliSafe sensors, and create products and services like Lifepaint, a reflective safety spray for cyclists that’s invisible in the light of day but highly visible at night in the glare of headlights.

“What we wanted to do with Lifepaint was take the innovation of the car and get people talking about it in a way that could cut through culture,” said Nils Leonard, chief creative officer at Volvo’s agency Grey London.

With talks scheduled with the London Mayor’s Office to put the paint on the Boris Bikes and a global roll out planned, it’s safe to assume that Volvo is on the cusp of gaining that cultural traction it craves.

Results of the campaign, which gave away 2,000 cans in six of the most influential cycling shops across the city in April, back this up. The cans sold out in hours with 20,000 more ordered in the first week, while an accompanying online film has generated 130 million global media impressions and counting with no media spend.

“It’s about growing Lifepaint now,” added Leonard. “I love the idea of not just getting more collateral for it and trying to get more cans to people. I’d like to think the idea might inspire other technologies or an event. It’s definitely more than advertising. It’s in the cultural space.

Lifepaint’s potential belies its humble beginnings. Searching for inspiration, Volvo stumbled on a group in Sweden who had sprayed the antlers of reindeer in a reflective substance to prevent drivers crashing into them. The two parties met and decided to work collaboratively on how they could make the paint work on fabrics, which is what eventually became Lifepaint.

Saving cyclists lives is an altruistic motive, particularly for a car brand, but the reality is the campaign and more importantly the approach need to be able to shift hard brand metrics. It is why Grey’s planners and strategists are exploring ways to measure the impact ideas like Lifepaint have and how Volvo can scale them up should they prove successful.

Interestingly, the concept wasn’t expensive and wasn’t funded by the millions from the car maker’s advertising budget. It was funded by its dealership budget with the car maker wanting an idea its salesforce could pitch to potential buyers that differed from the glossy manuals littered with shots of gearsticks and steering wheels. Volvo sees a bigger role for similar projects moving forward that strategically placed throughout the year in order to balance its bigger advertising campaigns.

“Lifepaint wasn’t expensive. I’m not asking [Volvo] to spend an ad budget to create ideas like this. It can come from other places” said Leonard. “I think a lot of marketers think what we’re trying to is replace the TV ad with a can of paint and we’re not. You need both. We looked at the spread of the [marketing mix] and the calendar [of activity] and said at what point we wanted to start this conversation. That’s the best way to do it.”

Volvo is unlikely to make song and dance about future plans. This is the company that said its invention of the three-point seatbelt innovation in 1959 was too important not to share. Instead, the business wants to continue exploring how design can have a big impact on peoples’ behaviours and not just under the bonnet, spotting an opportunity to reframe aspects of its cars such as safety and air filtration in a way that resonates far more with consumers than a standard ad could ever hope to do.

Lifepaint was awarded the Cannes Lions Grand Prix for design yesterday evening (24 June), its second after it scooped the prize for promotion and activation earlier in the week.

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