Home » Crushing A Reputation: Cold Start

Crushing A Reputation: Cold Start

Topshot Volvotruck
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There are so many lessons to be learned from the photo above, which was part of Volvo’s infamous 1990 advertising campaign that included the same imagery as a television commercial. The most important lesson is to be sure that no matter how “good” any third party that you use is claimed to be, always check their work. Trust but verify.

You see, in 1988 a person associated with Volvo’s advertising agency saw a monster truck event where a Volvo was part of the assemblage of cars to be sacrificed to the gods of lowbrow entertainment. Apparently the Volvo’s basic body structure refused to yield to this stupid toy truck, and the idea was suggested for a series of Volvo advertisements.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Volvo was no stranger to this kind of idea. For years they’d been showing versions of this concept, including a bunch of stacked cars:

Volvo Ad Are You In The Market For A Hard Top 1971 768x1009
Volvo

And later a truck sitting on top of a 700 series car. Note that the suspension of the car is not even flexed at all. Yeah, well, obviously some “work” had been done here, but not horribly so, and nothing too misleading for the public. At least not this time.

Volvo Ad 12 26
Volvo

For the monster truck advertisements, an organization was hired to recreate the 1988 event that inspired the commercial. For whatever reason, the team doing the shot wanted it to look as good as possible, even if they had to, you know, do a few things to “enhance” the image.

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Topshot Volvotruck
Volvo

In the image you can see how much the surrounding vehicles are crushed compared to the 200 Series Volvo; this being 1990 most of those junkers would be sort of cool cars today; the Plymouth Valiant/Dusters on the ends, the Ford Pinto, Maverick, and in particular the first-generation US-spec Audi 100LS to the left of the wagon.

Audi 100ls 12 26
Bring A Trailer

It turns out that, unknown to the agency (or so they claimed), the playing field had been a little less than level. An AdWeek article from 1990 below shows some images from the shoot:

Volvo Article 12 26

Note the heavy reinforcements in the back of the Volvo wagon:

Volvo Reinforced 12 26
AdWeek

Also, the surrounding cars like the poor Maverick were chopped to help facilitate the cleanliness of their crushing.

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Volvo Chop 12 26
AdWeek

Ultimately, the results were disastrous for Volvo, and their advertising agency of twenty years that had to resign in shame. Volvo faced investigations by the FTC and the Texas Attorney General. The sad fact is that without any modifications, as long as it wasn’t parked next to W123 Benz, the Volvo would have still fared far better than the other cars being crushed.

That’s the other lesson: if it’s 98 percent good enough, it usually isn’t worth risking everything to make it two percent better.

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Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago

“Ultimately, the results were disastrous for Volvo”

How so? Volvo did exactly what you’d want a company to do in that situation. They investigated and found out the production company hired by Volvo’s ad agency had used standard Hollywood tricks to get a dramatic outcome, not understanding that was not needed nor desired by Volvo.

In response Volvo:

Publicly apologized
Owned up to their responsibility in the matter
Fired the ad agency
Paid the State of Texas for the full costs of the investigation
Assured their customers of the safety of their product.

That is exactly what a reputable company should do and it worked:

“Counter intuitively, Volvo 240 monthly sales increased 19 percent that November; sales increased another 38 percent the following month. It would seem that customers still believed in Volvo and said so with their checkbooks.”

(Its worth noting that by now the 240 was a 16 yo design)

Furthermore when Monster Truck promoters tried to cash in on the scandal they found out the hard way Volvos do indeed stand up to the advertising:

“Beyond the media buzz, there was great irony in the “Monster Truck” saga. In the months after the story broke, the United States Hot Rod Association, the sanctioning body for monster truck events, embraced the global media frenzy. Around the nation the USHRA scheduled “Crush a Volvo” events as a headline grabber. However, the crushing didn’t go as planned. Even without that movie magic, and just as the Swedish engineers foresaw, Volvos really could withstand a monster truck’s abuses. As reported in the Pittsburgh Press after one such event, “Volvo was grudgingly declared the winner this morning after a monster truck trying to crush it ended up with a broken drive shaft.”

It appeared that not only could Volvos withstand brutal punishment, Volvos could even fight back.

In covering the event, USA Today reported that Volvo Spokesman Robert Austin stated, “Volvos really are tough. In fact we wouldn’t mind if they featured “new” Volvos for these events”

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Thanks for this, it needed to be said. It’s not like we don’t immediately associate old Volvos with sturdiness to this very day. To say that this was disastrous in any way seems very far-fetched. In the end they did some damage control and their cars did the rest to dispell any distrust this may have created.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago

“It’s not like we don’t immediately associate old Volvos with sturdiness to this very day.”

Not just sturdiness, at least for me. Brakes and cleaner emissions too. Volvos were sporting power 4 wheel disc brakes in the 60’s. My friend’s 142 (the predecessor of the 240) could stop on a dime. It handled pretty well for a rolling box too. His mother’s 244 had a Lambda Sond badge which I was proudly told meant it had a better emission control system.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

“Lambda Sond was the first O2 sensor used in a car and Volvo paired it with a three way catalyst.

Last edited 3 months ago by Mr. Canoehead
Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Canoehead

Yep

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

I love seeing those Lambda badges in old 240s 🙂 definitely ahead of its time, touting “green” tech through badging.

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
3 months ago

Why all the monster truck hate?

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  notoriousDUG

What’s to love?

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

About monster trucks what is there to hate?

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  notoriousDUG

Noise, pointless destruction, the dumbing down of society, brodozer enablement come to mind.

OK your turn. What’s to love?

Dr. Asteroid
Dr. Asteroid
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

You literally answered your own question, Mr. Bastard. You never fully understand the appeal until you go to a show and can truly FEEL it through your body and see the action up close. Watching the same thing on TV is lame. Gotta see it in person.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Dr. Asteroid

Go see monster trucks? Why would I do that to myself? No thanks. That sounds worse than the pro wrestling match I was once talked into watching in person Flipping past that garbage on TV was bad enough but in person it was even worse. The stuff in the ring was awful by itself yet being there in person I was surrounded by its rabid fans AND I had paid for the torment. Pro wrestling is highbrow entertainment compared to monster trucks. You said it yourself:

“You never fully understand the appeal until you go to a show and can truly FEEL it through your body and see the action up close.”

Its all about the feels because that’s all it CAN be about. Take away those lowbrow feels and the lameness is obvious.

Plus who want to pay $$ just for a #$&+@ beer?

Dr. Asteroid
Dr. Asteroid
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

I respect your differing opinion on the matter of monster trucks.

Thomas The Tank Engine
Thomas The Tank Engine
3 months ago

From the ad with the stacked cars :

“But we do know that in Sweden Volvos are driven an average of eleven
years.”

That just shows how much cars have improved, in both reliability and corrosion resistance. 11 years is barely run in today.

Vanillasludge
Vanillasludge
3 months ago

Not for the current Volvo’s…They have a half life of .51x the warranty.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
3 months ago
Reply to  Vanillasludge

Our 2002 V70 (which we bought as a CPO in 2003) is finally succumbing to rust and general old age but the T5 engine is still solid and doesn’t burn any oil. It has been one of the most reliable cars I have ever owned. My kids drive it now, but I took it out the other day and was still impressed by how well it drives.

When MrsCanoehead desired a newer car in 2017 and wanted another Volvo, we bought a CPO 2015 XC60 with the tried and tested 3.0l six rather than the new gen XC60 with the unproven supercharged and turbocharged 2.0l four.

No regrets on that choice, the new ones seem much more fragile. My neighbor is constantly complaining about his new XC90 T8.

Tondeleo Jones
Tondeleo Jones
3 months ago

The infamous Volvo “stack” ad.

That stack of Volvos was erected near the house where I lived with my parents in 1971/1972- I don’t recall the year for certain. The site was on a recently-closed US Air Force base in Mobile, Alabama near an abandoned taxiway.

Being a school bus rider, me and my gang of car enthusiast friends watched the stack under construction over a two or three day period, since it was near the road we traveled back and forth to school. Some of the more knowledgeable guys suspected it was some kind of US government vehicle safety test, since so many new regulations were coming on line. The stack of cars was impressive to say the least.

One afternoon we passed by the site and the entire stack had toppled over. Volvos were strewn everywhere and no one was around. A group of us hiked the 2-1/2 miles back to the site to see what we could find out after our bus dropped us off.

There were around ten cars in total on the site and the interiors absolutely reeked. It was obvious that they had been under water at some time and they were useless. There were 144s, 142s and 164s with a mixture of manual and automatic transmissions. Some of the cars still had the wooden cradles on their roofs built to support the car above it. Learning nothing new, we headed back home.

On our bus ride home the next day, we saw that the site had been cleared off – even the concrete pad poured to support the stack had been removed. It was some months later when one of the gang brought his new issue of Road & Track to school that we saw the advertisement touting Volvo’s structural strength. The ad agency has airbrushed out the background which would have had a view of Mobile Bay and a couple of roads.

Today, the site is occupied by a National Guard armory.

Dr. Asteroid
Dr. Asteroid
3 months ago
Reply to  Tondeleo Jones

Thanks for the story, Rodney! That’s pretty neat you got to see the whole thing happening in person.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
3 months ago

In the black and white hardtop ad the copy states, “in Sweden Volvos are driven an average of eleven years.”

As much as I love older cars it’s a testament to the improvement of automotive reliability that today pretty much any car can be expected to last longer than that.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
3 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

And remember the I Love Lucy episode where they think they see Fred in the used car he was supposed to buy and Ricky remarks that he hopes that isn’t him, since the car is 7 or 8 years old and would never be able to make the trip to California? Ultimately, he buys something that’s more like 30 years old, and it’s treated like a jalopy ready to fall apart at the curb.

Today, I do 950 mile road trips in a 60 year old car without missing a beat, back then a 60 year old car would have been good for a museum piece

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
3 months ago

Volvo: we even cheat better.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Read the story. They didn’t cheat. They had no need to.

Last edited 3 months ago by Cheap Bastard
Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Read the story. They internally braced the Volvo and cut out structural support in the other cars to cause more dramatic differences in damages caused by the monster truck. That is cheating. The fact that the Volvo would’ve probably done better anyway is not material here, because they gamed the system to skew the result. If you take a test that you’d likely pass, but copy answers off of someone else to get an A, that’s still cheating, regardless as to whether you could’ve passed. No way of knowing how much of your success is due to the cheating or your prep. Same thing with the Volvo, which is why their reputation suffered for awhile.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
3 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Volvo’s reputation didn’t really suffer that much from this; sales kept increasing after the debacle. And the reputation of older Volvos as undestroyable remains to this day, while for this “scandal” you literlly need to be reminded that it happened – definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of boxy old Volvos. Back then it was established with a reasonable degree of certainty that it was the agency who tampered with the cars to make sure they’d get the shot they wanted, without consulting with Volvo (who then fired the agency when the story became public).

I would argue they ended up doing excellent damage control, if anything.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
3 months ago

My daily driver is an ‘88 240 DL. I generally agree with your comments and Volvo’s reputation for building tanks did survive the kerfluffle, but I do clearly recall the egg-on-its-face moment for Volvo due to the “artistic license” from the ad. And, there’s no getting around the fact that ,whether enacted by Volvo directly, or by an agency paid by Volvo, the ad was fraudulent.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
3 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

No one’s saying otherwise, of course. The ad was fraudulent, and the fact that it didn’t need to be makes it even worse, because it just makes the whole thing so stupid. 100% agreed on that, and the fact that Volvo ultimately has the responsibility for not properly vetting the agency’s work. And I wouldn’t put it beyond them to have made these decisions and when it was convenient they threw the agency under the bus, with some hush money in the mix. It’s an automaker after all.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

I did read the story. I read all of it. Did you?

The low bid production team hired by the ad agency did the bracing or cutting without Volvo management’s knowledge or approval.

The story makes it clear the most Volvo management knew was that the audience was filled with ringers and the shoot would have multiple takes but nothing about the bracing or cutting.

Unless you think the story is based on a lie. Which is possible given the story is an interview with retired Volvo PR Manager Bob Austin, a key player in all this.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

I did once work as a creative director for an ad agency and, in my personal experience, I never had a client that just threw money at us and said make us look good and didn’t check our work. They all wanted oversight into every phase of concept, development, and execution. So, I may be inclined to think that the Volvo rep may have shaded the story a bit to make Volvo look better, but I have no evidence of that, just the knowledge that none of my clients were ever that trusting or clueless when it came to spending big money. And, of course, not all ad agencies are the same. Ultimately, the buck stops with Volvo as the purveyor of the ad, even if their greatest sin was just naïveté.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

“even if their greatest sin was just naïveté.”

Have you met Swedes? If not that’s a pretty good description of them.

Its worth remembering Volvo had worked with this agency for 24:years. Lots of stacked Volvo ads over that time so. it would make sense they trusted their agency to know where to draw the line. Its clear those ads had some shenanigans going on (I doubt the tires nor springs were rated for all that weight) but that’s a lesser evil than actively sabotaging the competition.

The ad was also based on a real event using real engineering and real build quality so Volvo wouldn’t have felt the need to hedge the bet. If somehow it hadn’t worked they simply wouldn’t have shown the ad probably chalked it up as research and gone straight back to the drawing board.

Or hired Joe Isuzu to add proper context.

A. Barth
A. Barth
3 months ago

That’s the other lesson: if it’s 98 percent good enough, it usually isn’t worth risking everything to make it two percent better.

Exactly: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

It’s a frustrating phenomenon. A problem arises, and someone proposes a solution, and then naysayers immediately complain that the proposed idea doesn’t solve 100% of the problem.

Oh no, the idea addresses only 80% – or even 40% – of the problem? Clearly it’s better to do nothing at all and retain 100% of the problem instead of doing the proposed thing and reducing the problem to 20% or 60%, he said sarcastically. 😐

A. Barth
A. Barth
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Good job on the prototype. 🙂

Perfect vs Good is more of a guideline than an actual rule.

And I should have been more clear: by “problem” I was thinking of broader issues like climate change and inflation. Large and complex problems generally won’t be solved by doing only one thing. A combination of five ideas, each addressing about 20% of the problem, would be a success. (These numbers are arbitrary, of course.) Even if two ideas failed, 60% of the problem would be addressed; this is a significant improvement but people seem to want all or nothing. I find it short-sighted and counterproductive.

Wally_World_JB
Wally_World_JB
3 months ago

Volvo. They’re boxy, but they’re good.

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