Volvo’s Remarkable New Films About Human Achievement Don’t Look Much Like Ads at All

Volvo journeys to the bottom of the sea and explores the remarkably resilient recesses of the human mind in these evocative, intense and ultimately uplifting brand films from London agency Valenstein & Fatt.

Keeping the cars themselves mostly in the background, directors Edward Lovelace and James Hall (aka, D.A.R.Y.L.) tie the automaker’s quest for innovation to personal achievement and the qualities of the human spirit that can help us beat daunting odds and overcome adversity.

Produced as part of Volvo’s ongoing “Human Made Stories” partnership with U.K. TV service Sky Atlantic, each film clocks in at over five minutes and packs plenty of emotional power, punctuated by poetic imagery and memorable moments. Telling true stories, they transcend the content model to deliver food for thought and some pretty impressive feels.

That’s particularly true for “Music of the Mind,” which focuses on a gifted English violinist named Rosie who suffers a catastrophic brain injury that silences her performing career. Many years later, she rejoins her orchestra thanks to technology that reads brainwaves and translates thoughts into melodic phrases for others to play:

“The first set of films we created got good traction and were downloaded 600,000 times” from Sky Atlantic’s On Demand service, agency creative director Andy Lockley tells AdFreak. “This time round, we wanted to tell stories that were truly remarkable. Stories about people whose refusal to accept the things the way they are has led to innovation that that potential to change the world. We spent a great deal of time searching for these stories and were very selective.”

The team sought out emotionally engaging, intellectually challenging stories because they define Volvo’s target audience as “defiant pioneers—people who inherently do things differently, challenge conventions and create their own path,” Lockley says.

Less of a tearjerker than “Music of the Mind,” though equally effecting in its own watery way, is “Nero’s Garden,” which tells of an audacious plan to save family farms in Italy by growing crops on the seabed:

“In any branded content, product integration has to be integral and not too intrusive,” says Lockley. “If it is, it’s counterproductive, and people will simply reject it. The viewer can choose to stop watching at any point if they felt they are being advertised to.”

With subdued hues, quietly passionate interviews, deft build-ups of suspense and unobtrusive car cameos, neither film feels much like advertising at all.

“The primary purpose of these films is to convey Volvo’s philosophy that it’s humans and human behavior that drive the world forward—not cars,” says Lockley. “The focus isn’t the car, it’s the people.”

That said, the brand connection might, at times, be a tad too subtle. It’s tough enough selling the cars themselves in entertaining fashion. Trying to communicate an automaker’s “philosophy” makes for an even rougher road. Plus, who’s going to remember what a nameplate stands for—or be thinking about any brand whatsoever—after watching “Music of the Mind”?

Still, Volvo deserves credit for attempting to shift the conversation and rolling in an unexpected direction.

“Nemo’s Garden” breaks tonight on Sky Atlantic following Game of Thrones, while “Music of the Mind” premieres after the hit series next Tuesday. Both films will be available for a year via Sky On Demand.

CREDITS
Head of Marketing, Volvo, Georgina Williams
Campaign Manager, Volvo, Terissa Wingfield

Creative Agency: Valenstein & Fatt
Joint Chief Creative Officers: Vicki Maguire & Caroline Pay
Creative Director: Andy Lockley
Strategic Design Director: Wiktor Skoog
Managing Partner: Crystyn Bevan
Business Director: Tim Rogowski
Account Director: Alex Nixon
Account Manager: Dominic Kolodziejski
Agency Producers: Amy Cracknell & Marcus Ely
Assistant Producer: Georgia Tomi

Prod Company: PULSE
Director D.A.R.Y.L (Edward Lovelace and James Hall)
Exec Producer: Neil Andrews
Editor Billy Mead & Amanda Jenkins at Ten Three
Additional editing: Matt Newman, Crispin Deverill & Luke Whiting at Hogarth
Sound Design: Zak Kurtha
Composer: Daniel Hart & Tom Player at Wake The Town

Post Production: GPS
Post Producer: Annika Gustavsson
Online: Esta Burgland
MPC Post Producer: Amy Richardson
Colorist: Mattieu Toullet