brand storytelling — August 3, 2016 at 9:38 am

Bad or Brilliant? That Weird Unintelligible Volvo Wedding Spot

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The Volvo Wedding Spot

A few weeks back I shared an example of great storytelling from Infiniti.

Now I’d like to show you some bad storytelling, this time from Volvo.

You might already know the Volvo Wedding commercial; it’s been out there quite a lot.

I’ve actually seen it numerous times, but still can’t make head or tail of it.

And I’m not the only one:

As “Frankthetank91” commented on Youtube:

WTF is going on in this commercial???!!!!

But to make matters more interesting, this bad story might actually be brilliant, either by design or in spite of itself.

If you haven’t watched it yet, take a look at the video above and you’ll see what I mean.

Volvo Takes Us On A Ride To Nowhere

Volvo Wedding opens up on four people riding in a Volvo XC90, apparently coming back from an event. If you’ve seen the spot on YouTube where it has a title, you know they’re returning from a wedding. Otherwise it’s not that obvious.

At the wheel is a woman in her late 40s. Next to her is a young man scrolling through photos he’s taken at the reception.

He appears to be of south-asian descent. The only reason I bring this up is that it suggests to me that he’s probably not related, in a familial way, to the driver, nor to the lighter-skinned man who sits directly behind him.

Caddy-corner to our photographer, also in the back seat, is an older bearded man in his 50s who is strangely reminiscent of The Most Interesting Man In The World. He too is of darker complexion and may be related to the young man up front.

So, from the outset this story presents us with a mystery: who are these people, how are they related, where have they come from and where are they going?

Volvo Wedding Sets Up A Story But Doesn’t Resolve It

This isn’t a bad set-up for the first act of a story. It establishes a problem, raises questions. And if it were a good story, these would be resolved at the end.

But as we’ll soon learn, the resolution never comes.

Act II, which should push the story towards this all-important denouement, is initiated by the driver turning on the radio to a beautiful, romantic song.

The camera then cuts to the older bearded man who, smiling, reflects upon a wedding ring he holds in his hand.

Is this his wedding ring? The driver’s wedding ring? A ring intended for the bride or groom from the wedding they’ve just attended? 

Mystery abounds, and as I’m watching I can’t wait to see how Volvo will pay it off.

Sadly, Act III, which should put our questions to rest, never delivers.

All we get is The Most Interesting Man In the World gently reaching forward and touching the driver on the shoulder. She smiles. We cut back to The Most Interesting Man In The World looking down once more at the ring and then smiling wistfully out the window as the Volvo XC90 drives off in the distance.

A tagline appears. It reads: “Our Idea of Luxury”

Huh?

If you’re as bewildered as I am, don’t worry. You’ll find many allies in the comment sections at YouTube or ispotmedia.tv

But The 30-Sec Spot Is Part Of A 3-minute Film!

I’ve learned that this 30-second spot is just part of a 3-minute “Extended Version” of Volvo Wedding.

After searching the web, I found it here.

And yes, things do make a bit more sense in the longer cut, but not entirely.

From what I can gather, the The Most Interesting Man In The World had just made a kickass speech at his daughter’s wedding (a speech he wrote and rehearsed while sitting in a parked Volvo XC90, no less!) The driver is his wife, the mother of the bride (perhaps). The photographer is a friend of the family on the groom’s side (the Best Man?). The identity of the fourth person in the car remains a mystery.

And it appears that the bit with the ring is The Most Interesting Man In the World symbolically restating his love for his wife. Yet curiously, in the extended version he doesn’t present the ring to her as she drives. Instead we only see him adjusting it on his finger.

What’s more, although the extended spot, like the 30-sec version, ends with “Our Idea of Luxury,” Volvo positions the car in its YouTube info as “a place to collect your thoughts.”

So I guess Volvo is defining “luxury” as the opportunity to “collect your thoughts.”

Not a bad insight and, broadly speaking, this extended version delivers on it.

But I’m Just Watching The 30-sec Spot!

None of this really matters, however, to the 30-second story we’re talking about.

In its TV-spot version, Volvo Wedding is unintelligible and unsatisfying. Moreover it doesn’t communicate the strategy which provided the foundation of the longer cut.

Now, Volvo could have easily tagged the spot with a link to the extended version. In that way we’d at least understand that the spot we’re having trouble grasping is just a teaser, that it is simply Act I of a larger story that will be resolved in the extended film.

But Volvo doesn’t offer that up.

Instead, we’re left hanging.

Narrativus Interruptus.

But Maybe It’s So Bad It’s Good!

There is an argument one can make, however, that the very incomprehensibility of the spot is what makes it effective, perhaps not as storytelling per se, but as “disruptive” marketing.

After all, I’m writing about it. You’re reading about it. And many of my friends and colleagues have talked about it.

So in terms of getting attention and generating brand awareness, Volvo Wedding may indeed be a hit.

It could even open up a whole new genre of marketing that is purposefully unintelligible:

Not Understanding is the New Understanding.

And I don’t doubt that some folks at Volvo and its agency are saying this was their plan all along.

Nah, It’s Just Lazy and Sloppy.

But I can’t buy the so-bad-it’s-good argument.

Let’s concede for the sake of argument that Volvo Wedding significantly raised awareness. But awareness of what?

As someone who has spent many years in advertising agencies and on film sets, this looks like a project that simply went off the rails. Either the 30-second spot was an afterthought or it was just poorly conceived in the first place.

And if a “place to collect your thoughts” is the strategy, why not cut a 30-second spot from the opening of the extended version, in which The Most Interesting Man in the world is doing just that?

The bottom line is that we’re teased into a story that we hope will offer us a satisfying conclusion.

But our hopes are thwarted and, if you’re like me, you’re left with a bad, even slightly creepy feeling.

I can’t believe that’s what Volvo had in mind.

It’s a shame, really. The spot and its extended version are beautifully shot and cast.

But the story Volvo ultimately delivers is one about a brand that is confused, sloppy and lazy.

And if they’re this careless with their advertising, what does that say about the quality of their cars?

Now, that’s not a message you ever want to drive home.

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