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Volvo celebrates Asian family values with Andrea Jin, Kevin Lee & their grandmothers

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By Audrey Kemp | LA reporter

September 28, 2023 | 6 min read

The ads were created in partnership with Eastern Standard Times, a media outlet dedicated to telling Asian stories.

andrea jin and her grandmother

Andrea Jin and her real grandmother star in Volvo's latest campaign / Credit: Volvo

Although many distinct ethnic groups make up the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, one common value unites them all: the paramount importance of family approval.

A new ad campaign from Swedish automaker Volvo aims to honor this truth in an authentic way: ‘The Generational Drive: The Ultimate Approval.’ In two spots, Andrea Jin, a Chinese-Canadian comedian and Kevin Lee, a Korean-Canadian-American chef, take their actual grandmothers for joy rides in Volvo’s new XC40 and XC90. In the ads, the influencers show off the features of the electric SUVs while seeking genuine approval from their grandmothers.

There is evident levity to Jin’s spot, which follows the comedian picking up her grandmother in her new Volvo XC40. Thankfully for Jin, her grandmother describes in Mandarin the car’s interior as “luxurious.”

As the spot closes, Jin jokingly asks her grandmother if she is her favorite granddaughter. This remark is congruous with her standup, which often includes anecdotes about her grandparents.

By contrast, Lee’s spot appears deeper and more intimate, as he gingerly helps his grandmother into his Volvo XC90 and tells her that she looks nice. As viewers learn in the spot, Lee’s grandmother taught him many dishes, which laid the foundation for his recipes.

Aiming to achieve cultural authenticity, Volvo enlisted Eastern Standard Times to create the ads with them. Co-founded in 2021 by former Vice Media executive Eric Tu co-founder of music company 88 Rising, Jaeson Ma, Eastern Standard Times is a new media outlet specializing in documentary-style stories about Asian youth, both in their home countries and throughout the diaspora. Each of its 22 global staff members are of Asian descent.

“It is a big deal for us to have a company as respected as Volvo take a chance on us,”​ Keshia Hannam, editor-in-chief at Eastern Standard Times, told The Drum. “Although our team is experienced, Eastern Standard Times is new. We are grateful that [Volvo’s marketers] understood the granular nuance of what was to be brought to life here [and] knew that it needed people immersed in that culture to do it.”​

Janique Helson, head of brand marketing, content and creative services at Volvo Car USA added: “Volvo is a 90+-year-old brand [and] lots of people know us as a safety brand. Therefore, family is a big thing for us; it always has been. When we seek to attract a younger, more culturally diverse audience, we try to find storytelling through the lens of people who are actually of that culture.”

According to Hannam, the project was developed by an all-Asian creative team, with Korean-American Joy Jeong as director, Indonesian Stephanie Tangkilisan as producer and Chinese Jonathan Wang as cinematographer.

This turned out to be a strength during each commercial shoot. When the Eastern Standard Times realized neither grandmother could speak English very well, the crewmembers spoke Mandarin and Korean to them, creating a bond with the grandmothers and adding another authentic element to the ads.

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The new campaign builds on Volvo’s relationship with the Eastern Standard Times, which began earlier this year with an Earth Month and the Lunar New Year activation at the Volvo Studio in Downtown Los Angeles. The event featured an activation from Icelandic-Chinese artist Laufey, a live DJ and a panel discussion moderated by the Eastern Standard Times staff. There, some 500 attendees were introduced to the automaker’s electrified 2023 models.

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