The Epic Split became the most popular of the six advertisements in the Live Tests series, and brought Van Damme a new lease of life.
Up until 2011, Volvo Trucks’ launch marketing followed a more conventional strategy—public relations, social media, YouTube videos, and printed promotional materials were all methods they had used in the past.
But the media landscape had fundamentally changed. They were on the lookout for a business partner who could provide a fresh perspective on how to best compete with the competition. Forsman & Bodenfors, of Sweden, had a solid track record in generating ground-breaking consumer campaigns for companies such as Ikea, UNICEF, Volvo Cars, etc., so Volvo Trucks decided to work with them.
At the outset, there was a great deal of research done on truck purchasers and the new vehicle’s product features–what made them different and how they operated. The agency conducted several interviews with employees, including engineers.
The creatives were greatly influenced by two major insights. First, the team discovered that truck drivers have a strong emotional attachment to the vehicles they drive, which sparked their creative thinking on how to best exhibit the new trucks. The second factor was the sheer number of individuals who have a say in whether or not a truck is purchased—the driver, his or her immediate family, coworkers, superiors, customers, and the companies whose goods the trucks transport.
They adopted a multi-level narrative strategy to appeal to a wide range of customers and influencers. Using emotion to highlight benefits is a great way to connect with the customer. The drivers had to be impressed by how well they drove, and everyone else had to be blown away by how amazing the show was.
From the outset, the aim was to make several different Live Test films. They wanted to get close to the product, documentary-style, but still have a Hollywood-scale impact. But there was also a lot of room to add to this with supporting content, like information about each new truck’s features and the new technology that made them possible.
It was always the plan to produce a slew of various live test videos. It was their goal to make a documentary-style film with a Hollywood-sized effect yet to highlight the technology and product features.
For each new vehicle, the creative team selected the most important product attributes and then pondered how to effectively dramatise them. As a result of receiving input from the engineers, the live test concepts were sent back to Volvo Trucks for refinement. Several of the film’s concepts emerged from discussions between the agency and the engineers.
Selecting ideas that were relevant to both the goods and the intended audience was a critical component of this strategy’s success. So, the people at Volvo Trucks didn’t worry as much that the campaign was just a bunch of stunts.
The Hamster Stunt film was inspired by an engineer’s assertion that he could control a new vehicle with his little finger. The Epic Split was inspired by another who spoke about reversing the truck and trailer at high speed because of the quality of the vehicle’s steering.
Once “The Ballerina Stunt” was released in August 2012, the approach began to take form. Faith Dickey, a world-record-holding high-liner, walks over a wire between two rushing trucks.
Following “Ballerina,” there came “The Technician,” in which a Volvo truck runs over the head of an engineer buried to his neck in the sand to illustrate the 12-inch clearance between the ground and undercarriage. While perched 66 feet above a wind-whipped Gothenburg harbour in “The Hook,” Volvo Trucks president Claes Nilsson shows off his truck’s front towing hook.
Then came “Hamster,” and “The Chase.” “The Epic Split” was released in November 2013, as part of the fifth instalment in the “Hamster” series to promote the innovative dynamic steering technology.
It was the creative team of Martin Ringqvist, Anders Eklind, Bjorn Engstrom & Sophia Lindholm who were behind the idea.
It took director Andreas Nilsson around five months to prepare the production, which was shot on the runway of a closed-off airport south of Madrid, Spain, named Ciudad Real.
Van Damme’s stunts were captured in a single take after a three-day rehearsal period. A safety harness and cable were tucked away out of sight to keep him safe. During the whole shot, both vehicles were travelling in reverse at a speed of around 16 mph. It had to be shot within 15 minutes, between 8:05 and 8:20 in the morning, when the sunshine was exactly perfect.
Since travelling in reverse is harder than moving ahead, everyone agreed that the ultimate test would be to reverse the trucks while someone was standing on the side mirrors doing a side split.
Within a week of its debut, Epic Split was seen online 25 million times within a week, and within nine days had surpassed 40 million views. “Only Time” by Enya re-entered the Billboard Top 100 at number 43, thirteen years after its first release.
Overall, Volvo Trucks’ live test videos earned over 100 million YouTube views and approximately 8 million shares between June 2012 and May 2014.
The campaign generated 20,000 media reports worldwide, equivalent to an estimated $172.6m (126m Euros).