Home » A Volvo Ad Copywriter Once Allegedly Wanted To Hang A Car Over A Baby But Had To Settle For Himself Instead

A Volvo Ad Copywriter Once Allegedly Wanted To Hang A Car Over A Baby But Had To Settle For Himself Instead

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Volvo was one of the first carmakers to really embrace safety as a selling point, something that was counter to how most carmakers saw things back in the day. Lee Iacocca, the father of the Ford Mustang, Pinto, and the man who saved Chrysler, was famously quoted as saying “safety doesn’t sell.” Maybe it didn’t sell K-Cars, but it sure as hell sold Volvos, and the Swedish carmaker really leaned into advertising that reflected this. The brand had a flair for drama, too, as you can see in this one ad I happened to come across — a striking and genuinely weird ad with an even stranger backstory. The original plan was to stick a baby under that car, at least according to the lore around the ad.

Let’s look at some Volvo ads over the past few decades, just to get a sense of what they were up to.

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As you can see, Volvo enjoyed showing how strong its cars were, how much they could withstand, and how much abuse they could take — presumably in lieu of your soft, pliant, fuzzy body.

If you know a bit about this history of car advertising, you can likely sense a lot of influence from Dole Dane Bernbach’s (DDB) famous 1950s to 1960s Volkswagen ad campaign, one of the most influential ad campaigns for anything, ever. There are the simple layouts, white backgrounds with un-glamorous photos of the car, honest copy that was quietly witty and treated the reader like an intelligent friend, not some mark to be separated from their money.

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One of the people who worked on this legendary DDB Volkswagen campaign is actually the guy you see laying under that dangling car up there — a highly respected British ad man named David Abbott. This is the ad I want to talk about, so let’s show the whole thing:

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The premise is pretty simple, and very visual and visceral: Volvo has been claiming how strong its spot welds are, that each is strong enough to support the entire car’s weight, so here Volvo is proving it in this ad by hanging a Volvo 740 over a person who happens to be the person who wrote the ad copy.

Here’s what the first bit of the copy says:

IF THE WELDING ISN’T STRONG ENOUGH, THE CAR WILL FALL ON THE WRITER

That’s me, lying rather nervously under the new Volvo 740.

For years I’ve been writing in advertisements that each spot weld in a Volvo is strong enough to support the weight of the entire car.

Someone decided I should put my body where my mouth is. So we suspended the car and I crawled underneath.

It’s a strange ad for a lot of reasons. It’s extremely rare to see the ad’s copywriter in the ad itself, first, and I suspect even rarer to see them potentially in mortal danger. Even weirder is the story that the original idea was to have the welder’s baby under the car, which sort of would have made Volvo seem like some cruel medieval despot holding his court alchemist’s child in a dungeon unless he could turn a pile of sawdust into gold.

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Then, it seems a Volvo engineer was pitched (and/or possibly the welder themself?) and also rejected, until the guy coming up with all the ideas to stick people under a suspended car finally had to just step up and volunteer himself. As far as I can tell, everything we see in the ad appears to be true; I’ve found no suggestions that the image was faked or anything like that.

As Paul Belford, of an award-winning U.K. ad agency that bears his name, tells us in a post on his website about this famous ad:

Apparently the original idea was to have the welder’s baby beneath the car. Client said no. Then a Volvo engineer. Still no. So David did it himself.

What a memorable way to show a big, client friendly, studio shot of the car.

[…]

Interestingly, there’s no logo on this ad… oh, actually there it is, on the car. Not exactly huge is it? Maybe it doesn’t need to be. Because the idea is so good and the product has such a distinctive shape. Yes, perhaps the product itself serves as a logo here. And what about the endline? Where is it? Pretty much every dot of ink on this ad is dramatising the proposition of ‘safety’. Do we really need to repeat that in an endline? No. It would add nothing but clutter. Instead we simply have the product name and price.

The baby-under-the-car claims aren’t the kind of thing that seem to be on any official record (seems like the kind of suggestion you may not want to write down), but the story shows up in multiple places, and from people with real knowledge of the ad industry.

It looks like the car is being supported by the B-pillar, which must be welded to the roof structure. That’s generally a pretty stout weld on most cars. I’d hope that, if that weld were to have broken, Mr.Abbott would have heard some telltale metal creaking and tearing and been able to roll out of the way of the dropping 3,000 pounds of Swedish Iron, but, luckily, it never came to that.

It’s a ballsy ad, that’s for sure, and it grabs your attention and demands that you acknowledge that a Volvo 740 must, at the very least, not be a flimsy hunk of crap.

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I wonder if a modern carmaker would consider doing a similar ad? I suspect most modern cars would be able to pass this test just fine, but, if I was a copywriter, would I do it? I think so? Seems a pretty safe bet, especially when you remind yourself that Tesla does no advertising, so you don’t have to worry about, you know, all that.

 

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Jason Masters
Jason Masters
1 year ago

There is a great book out there called “forty years of selling volvo” that was included in the box of parts with my 245 when i bought it. tons of fun ads.

Mike McDonald
Mike McDonald
1 year ago

I guess they can’t do this now because there will be copy cat tiktok challenges…

Iain Tunmore
Iain Tunmore
1 year ago

There must surely have been some trickery/fakery involved for the car to hang at that angle, I don’t think that’s how it would naturally hang from that point, the CoG has to be directly below the point of hanging if it’s free hanging, which I dont think it would be. So either there is additional bracing and it’s not hanging off the welded B pillar or they’ve shifted/removed (or added I guess) some weight to make it hang as desired.

Rubbermeetstheroad
Rubbermeetstheroad
1 year ago

Re the near-lack of a logo in the ad — anyone who read auto magazines at the time would instantly know it was a Volvo ad, because of the headline font.

Jonathan Hendry
Jonathan Hendry
1 year ago

If there were a failure it’d probably have been in the metal adjacent to the weld, not the weld itself.

Tristan Higginson
Tristan Higginson
1 year ago

Weldone!

Gary Moller
Gary Moller
1 year ago

Shhhhh, don’t let DT see this article. He may want to demonstrate the strength of his rust- free Geo’s welds

Eric Gollihar
Eric Gollihar
1 year ago
Reply to  Gary Moller

You forgot the quotes around “rust-free.”

By the way, I wonder if Dave is either a) color-blind, so can’t see rust, or b) somehow confused about what rust even is? He seems to not see it well…but he might just be looking for something else?

Gary Moller
Gary Moller
1 year ago
Reply to  Eric Gollihar

If ANYONE knows what rust looks like it’s DT. He just LIKES it.

Naterator
Naterator
1 year ago

Meanwhile the welds on anything made by Chrysler look like popcorn.

Sklooner
Sklooner
1 year ago

Didn’t Volvo fake an ad where they stacked a pile of 140s but had strengthened the roof pillars ?

DysLexus
DysLexus
1 year ago

Some brainiac wanted a Baby in the picture…really? That must have gone over like a lead balloon.
Why?
1) the obvious child endangerment/exploitation for profit ethical issue,
2) have they ever been around a baby? Think photo op with Santa Claus…Unless she/he is a newborn, they do like to crawl. Can’t really just say “Sit…Stay” and expect a good photo,
3) of course, there’s the whole soiling your pants issue with the baby.

DAFinReverse
DAFinReverse
1 year ago
Reply to  DysLexus

It didn’t happen last year. Take a deep breath. Please…

Bork Bork
Bork Bork
1 year ago
Reply to  DAFinReverse

Exactly, people cared way less about child endangerment in 1983.

Thatguyinphilly
Thatguyinphilly
1 year ago

“Volvo – they’re boxy but they’re good” is the only Volvo advertisement I need.

Sklooner
Sklooner
1 year ago

I prefered the Jaguar slogan

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
1 year ago

I like to think he may very well have quietly indicated his confidence in this by writing and submitting the ad copy in advance of the photo shoot.

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
1 year ago

This is where the Joker got half his ideas for killing Batman.

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
1 year ago

This Youtube video is all the advertising Volvo ever needs:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfxXAVjU9sQ

After watching that, I have decided that my children will learn to drive in a Volvo. Bonus that I don’t have to worry about them getting laid in one.

Scottingham
Scottingham
1 year ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

Wow that was crazy! It just kept running!

That makes me feel better about using my ’04 V70 for road trips. If it were to take it out of state though, I’d probably bring along a few spare coils/plugs as those have been the only thing to fail on it (twice, ugh) in 163k miles.

I love that little torque porker though.

Jeff Gillio
Jeff Gillio
1 year ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

That is more top gear than Top Gear.

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
1 year ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

Yep. All four of my kids learned to drive in my stick shift 1986 240. One of my great regrets in life is that I no longer own that car. I’m sure whoever does it still driving it, though.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
1 year ago
Reply to  Dar Khorse

I learned in a pair of automatic ’89s (the first was too rusty, the latter became my first car) and taught a friend to drive manual in a subsequent ’93.

You don’t need a project in your life, by chance? I’ve broken my 240 streak and I’m selling my needy ’92 245, also a manual.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
1 year ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

“This is the red 850 wagon, right? Aw yeah.”

I learned to drive in a Volvo. 240s are *really* fun to skid around!

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
1 year ago

But…what if anything else broke? The Volvo weld could have held, but the strap or the hook could have broken.

Bruce Larson
Bruce Larson
1 year ago

Generally, rigging has many times the capacity of whatever is being lifted. Mistakes or worn gear happens of course.

FUCK YOU
FUCK YOU
1 year ago

We lift stuff with cables and straps all the time. There’s plenty of equipment out there that can hoist something like a car without breaking a sweat. Heck, on Monday I helped crane some pallets up to a fourth story roof in Charlestown, the heaviest of which was probably about 2,000 lbs. Busy residential neighborhood (we did block off the road, naturally) with multi-million-dollar townhouses and expensive luxury cars lining both sides of a tight one-way street, and the guys from the crane company made it look boring. That was a *small* crane, the kind that fits on a normal flatbed truck chassis. They only get beefier from there.

Rigging is a solved problem, is what I’m saying. For any given object, there are people who can work out what it would take to safely lift it. Assuming it was done professionally, there was nothing to worry about.

Paul B
Paul B
1 year ago

Reminds of the ad Ford trucks used to run showing “how strong” the bolts were holding the bed to the frame by hanging the truck from them.

Your everyday grade 5 bolts from home Depot would have been able to easily hold that weight statically as they did.

Pure marketing that probably had the engineers rolling their eyes.

FUCK YOU
FUCK YOU
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul B

Did truck beds breaking their bolts and falling off their frames used to be a problem, or something? Absent some kind of serious damage (i.e. rust) I don’t think this is something I’ve ever even considered as a potential issue. Seeing a marketing firm crow about how their truck’s bed totally won’t fly away from you while you’re driving would actually raise more questions than it answered, for me.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
1 year ago
Reply to  FUCK YOU

Nah, this is very typical of advertising. Same thing with Lucky Strike’s “toasted” tobacco, which was always the industry standard as it is cheaper and faster than sun curing the leaf.

Baron Usurper
Baron Usurper
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul B

Marketing: Can you design it so one of you can stand underneath it for an ad shot?
Engineer: I mean, we alre-
Engineering Manager: Oh man that’ll take some effort but I think we can make it happen with some overtime if you guys are footing the bill.

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul B

Having anything work in traction is a walk in the park. Bending is the real enemy.

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