Creative On Location: A Place In The Sun

Volvo Ads Capture A Slice Of Thirtysomething Life
It’s a steamy July afternoon on a pier in Red Hook, Brooklyn, but the sun isn’t bright enough for Gerard de Thame, director of a campaign introducing the sporty Volvo S40 and V40 to North America. As crew members set up an auxiliary light, others gaze at Lady Liberty for inspiration.
But Michael Lee, creative director at Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, is optimistic. “It’s going to be perfect because of the sunset,” he says. “The reason we’re here is to capture that.”
Actually, the sunset will play the role of a sunrise in “Start Up,” an ad about a young Internet entrepreneur who wakes up at his desk after an all-nighter at the office. Too busy to go home, he goes to his car to brush his teeth, shave and change clothes for another big day.
The ad, one of three in a $20 million campaign that broke nationwide last week, targets ambitious thirtysomethings. Shot in and around New York City to capture an urban feel, the spots are intended to have a lighter, more humorous tone than previous Volvo work.
Despite the heat, a playful spirit animates Lee and the campaign’s co-creative director, Paul Wolfe. Like mischievous teenagers, they take good-natured jabs at the director since he’s too busy to notice. “He’s chunky,” one says. “No,” the other asserts, “He must be a rugby player or something.”
Their talk soon gravitates back to work. “Gerard? He’s good at capturing the reality of people, but he also produces great-looking film. It’s a tricky combination,” Wolfe says of the director responsible for Volkswagen’s award-winning “Synchronicity” spot.
Lee adds that they wanted de Thame to show off Volvo’s new stylish designs, admitting that until two years ago, the cars needed a face-lift. “Now, they’re beautiful. They look a lot better than people think,” he says.
Wolfe agrees. It’s time for Volvo to overcome the “safe but boxy” stereotype. “Volvo was the victim of its own brand brilliance,” he says. “We could say Volvo to someone in the Yucatan, and they would say, ‘Yeah, safety.'”
The Messner team also created the new “For life” tagline. “It means protecting life, but it also means celebrating life,” Wolfe says.
Meanwhile, a bit of tension arises around a monitor, as copywriter James Overall and art director David Fox exchange hushed comments.
Overall suggests enhancing the humor of the spot. “It’s just the way he puts on his pants. He could hop on one foot,” he says while demonstrating. The message is relayed to de Thame, who doesn’t like it. “What does he want, clown shoes?” the director asks, then moves on to another shot. Overall sighs heavily. Such is the life of an artistic collaborator.
But de Thame’s decision is a calculated one. Bob Austin, director of marketing communications for Volvo North America, explains that the company wants to avoid portraying its audience as slackers, as others in the auto category, particularly Volkswagen, have done in the past.
To that end, the Messner team created storylines that feature young adults en route to better things. For example, another ad in the series shows an actress rehearsing her lines on her way to an audition: “My sheets have never been so white.” She’s nervous, but her companion reminds her to “think of the residuals.”
During filming, the sunset proves more fickle than your average starlet; it never appears from behind the clouds. But the show must goes on.
As Wolfe explains, it all adds to the naturalness the spots are intended to capture. “Life as it happens,” he says. “A little cinema veritƒ.”