I passed a 96-sheet billboard the other day that got me thinking about brands. It was for the new Volvo S60 and showed a glorious picture of the curvy red sports saloon with a simple tagline, something along the lines of “meet the new boxy” (I’d have taken a photo, if I wasn’t lost at the time).

The tagline makes a tongue-in-cheek reference to Volvo’s square styling of yore, and in my opinion it’s a sublime bit of brand-aware advertising that teaches us three great lessons:

  • Remember that you don’t own your brand image. The brand is what’s built up in the minds of customers through their experience of your products, marketing and corporate behaviour through the years. It’s been 20 years since Volvo first made the boxy estate cars that earned its reputation, but the association lives on in the public consciousness. Volvo can’t simply ignore or deny its long legacybut it can play with that legacy and turn it into an asset.
  • Don’t rush to throw away the past. It takes time to create new brand associations. Unless you find a way to reconcile the past with the future during your transitions, you risk creating cognitive dissonance and confusion in the market. The word “boxy” acts as shorthand for Volvo’s legacyrecalling those iconic adverts about safetyeven if Volvos today aren’t necessarily any safer than the Renaults, Fords and Toyotas on the forecourt next door.
  • You can be serious without being staid. Volvo is reaching out to a new audienceone that doesn’t wear tweed, but does appreciate a brand that speaks its language, with boldness and a dash of humour.

Volvo has a long history of being daring with its brand. In the film Crazy People a group of mental health patients coin the slogan “Volvos: they’re boxy but they’re good”. Instead of sending in the lawyers, Volvo joined in with plenty of plain-speaking adverts of its own.

Posted by John on 19 October 2010