Byravee Iyer
Sep 30, 2014

Exclusive: Volvo insiders on creating, and following up on, the 'Epic split'

At first glance, Annika Viberud, director strategic brand and marketing communications for Volvo, and Bjorn Engstrom from Swedish shop Forsman and Bodenfors appear a little guarded. But when the subject turns to the award-winning 'Epic split' video, it quickly becomes clear the two are in their element.

The film, starring Jean Claude Van Damme, is the most-watched automotive commercial on YouTube. We lost count of how many times the ad came on the screen or received a mention at Spikes Asia 2014, a testament to the success of Volvo's 'Live tests' series of product demonstrations, which the brand launched in 2012. Campaign Asia-Pacific sat down with Viberud and Engstrom, who were in Singapore recently for a Google event.

Did you ever expect the ad to become so viral?

AV: We never expected it to be this big.

BE: It was planned for a viral campaign. The whole strategy was to get a viral hit.

Were you able to predict beforehand, how viral it would get?

AV: No one can do that. We realised we have something big when were shooting. I’ll also attribute some of our success to luck. Then of course, we did plan our strategy to build a fan base.

How did the idea for the campaign come about?

BE: It all started with inferences around truck drivers. You have to do something very different to reach so many people.

Did you have your share of detractors?

BE: The biggest challenge was not to think in the traditional ad format. We had to think entertainment and pop-culture in order to be relevant.

Did you have other ideas for the campaign?

BE: Our aim was to try different things and learn what is successful. Our first video was the Ballerina stunt. It was a video more and more people were looking at. So we decided to make more. The idea was to figure out the top 10 features of the truck. We shortlisted features and ideas that were worth making videos on. Of course, this list kept changing because some ideas were too far out, but finally, we went with the six ideas that we felt were the strongest.

AV: It was a very informal and relaxed process. We had to choose from 30 features and naturally some were stronger than the others.

How long did the process take?

BE: We started in 2010 and the first video was released in autumn 2012. We released the next five in autumn 2013.

What were the business results of the campaign?

AV: I can’t share that, but, we know consideration has gone up 46 per cent.

How important was casting?

AV: In this production, it is essential. We had a lot of discussion around that because it’s so sensitive: Who you would like to be connected with your brand? It is such an honest script and we want to be an honest brand. Everything we do is real.

BE: We didn’t want Jean-Claude Van Damme to stand there, telling people to buy a Volvo. We want him to talk about himself. We had him tell the story of his life, doing his famous split with precision. We did have some other stars and angles in mind, but it wasn’t good enough.

The music was perfect.

BE: The music is was very important. We worked on the ads for months. The director Andreas Nilsson suggested Enya as one of the many choices. It’s not trendy music, and we had our doubts. Annika didn’t want to change it. When Enya saw it, she loved the idea, and the song went back on the Billboard list.

What’s your view of the spoof videos that came out after?

BE: They keep coming. The spoof videos alone have more then 60 million views.

Which is your favourite?

BE: Chuck Norris

You’ve now set a standard. What’s next for Volvo?

BE: To find new ideas for the next campaign. After doing 'Epic split', we couldn’t sleep at night, counting the views and getting anxious. There’s no recipe for viral hits. You have do something unique every time. We released a new video recently. It’s much more low key, and there aren’t any stunts. We’re going in a different direction.

What are your plans for Asia?

AV: Our awareness campaign is a global one. Although the Asian launch of the trucks happened half a year later, if you’re aiming for a viral hit, you have to aim globally. Our internal network was aware of this and distributed and prepared packages to fuel the campaign. At the moment, Korea, China, Thailand and India are our biggest markets in this region.


How YouTube is helping brands

Simon Kahn, chief marketing officer at Google Asia Pacific

Video is a global challenge and brands are trying to figure out how to best use it. Brands that are based here in Asia have a huge interest in figuring it out. A lot of our focus is educating brands about general capabilities. We’re focused on building an ecosystem. The ad industry has been working in a mould for the last 50 years. Breaking out of this is a huge leap. One of the biggest discussion points is that brands say they understand the digital video space, but don’t know how to go about using it. My advice to them: create, curate and collaborate.

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