Volvo Trucks Live Test—epic demo advertising

Raise your hand if you love watching ads and eagerly await a commercial break on TV. Or you’re the type who doesn’t hit the “skip ad” button on YouTube.

Don’t be shy… No-one?

Well, I’d be surprised if a hand went up. Like a door-to-door salesman, an ad is generally unwelcome in our homes…

[Doorbell rings] You answer the door and the salesman outside jumps into his pitch: “A beautiful day, I know you’ve got better things to do, so I’ll only be here for about five seconds…”

You cut him and say, “Sorry, I’m busy (insert your excuse here),” close the door, then double lock for good measure.

That’s how we normally treat ads, don’t we? It’s tough being an ad.

What if things were different…

[Doorbell rings] You answer the door and the salesman outside hangs upside-down, the soles of his shoes glued to the porch ceiling with the latest industrial-strength Blu Tack.

You scream and, without missing a beat, the salesman thrusts the package at your screaming face and delivers his pitch, “New Blu Tack won’t let you down. We stick to our promise!”

Your shock quickly transforms to amazement and you laugh at the salesman’s silly stunt. (Don’t ask how he did it; that’s beside my point.)

You’ve just seen a demonstration of a product claim and its benefits. Most likely, you’ve been persuaded that the product is worth your money. Sold!

There’s nothing like the persuasive power of a product demonstration. Done well, it engages, is memorable and compels action.

What could be more compelling than a life-threatening demo such as this classic Pilkington corporate ad, which made me a believer of demos.

Deadly-serious Blendtec ads are not. “Will It Blend? That is the question,” asks Blendtec CEO Tom Dickson, the unlikely star of this viral series. Dickson isn’t referring to peaches and herbs, but everything from golf balls to — what?! — an iPad. A humorous example of a torture test that proves the power and toughness of BlendTec.

Which brings us to one of the more memorable online campaigns of the past five years, Volvo Trucks “Live Test” YouTube series. According to its Cannes Lions write-up, Volvo aimed to maximise awareness of its new range of trucks. Swedish agency, Forsman & Bodenfors, responded with a series of breathtaking stunts that dramatised the vehicles’ functional benefits.

For instance, a female Volvo FH truck driver towed a paraglider to demonstrate the Volvo Trucks’ powertrain, which maintains a truck’s speed even when the vehicle is climbing a mountain pass.

A ballerina walked a tightrope attached to two moving trucks to show truck handling.

A Volvo FMX was driven over obstacles via remote control by a four-year-old girl to demo the truck’s sturdiness and mobility.

In all, seven “Live Test” films were shot and the cherry on the top was none other than “The Epic Split” in which action star Jean-Claude Van Damme performed his famous split between two reversing trucks. Watch Volvo’s “Live Test” YouTube series here.

Photo courtesy of Volvo Trucks

The film is the perfect demonstration of the directional stability Volvo Dynamic Steering can offer,” said Jan-Inge Svensson, the engineer behind the system. “The stability and control are so good that you can reverse a truck over a long distance with very high precision. It had to be perfect, right down to the last centimetre.” Otherwise, it would’ve spelt Van Damme’s literal split.

In Ad Age’s classification of demonstration advertising, Volvo Trucks “Live Test” would fall under “whimsical”: the demos “incorporate humour and enjoyment into the message, for example, by employing an unexpected person as demonstrator or conducting the demonstration under unusual circumstances.” Whimsical they may be, the results, however, were dramatic.

“Live Test” got 100 million YouTube views, earned USD172.6 million media value, won numerous awards (notably the Cannes Lions Grand Prix for Creative Effectiveness) and, most importantly, after the campaign period, sales increased by 24%, making it Volvo Trucks’ best year ever. “The Epic Split” was recently voted the fourth best commercial on YouTube.