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business models, strategies and technologies

Research as competitive advantage – Volvo-style

A car is a car – but with the Equal Vehicles for All Initiative, Volvo differentiates differently

Volvo recently (April 2019)  launched the Equal Vehicles for All (EVA) initiative in worldwide media, with a series of attention-grabbing images and films of a female body dummy splintering into a myriad pieces. The accompanying messaging was about the differences between what happens to male and female bodies in car-crash situations.

The company and the Volvo Accident Research Team assert that they have been compiling real-world data about what happens during vehicle collisions ever since the 1970s. The EVA setup promises to make Volvo’s research results available to all, demonstrating a sense of corporate inclusivity and visible concern about the wellbeing of people far beyond the actual purchaser.

Cars should protect everyone

From carefree to careful

Most cliché-dripping car ads highlight messages about speed, movement, carefree escape and the freedom of the open road – the car as release from worry and loneliness, as the solution to our innermost dreams of a blissful, carefree life.

Which is why it’s bold of Volvo to go in almost the diametrically opposite direction, and to highlight the complexities of problems that can – and do – arise. Admitting to the existence of life-threatening problems at the heart of the car-driving experience is the basis for any substantive discussions about preventive safety. A few safety-related buzz-words as window-dressing in the conventional ad-speak narrative are not enough

Differentiation and detail

The traditional, well-known Volvo focus messaging about safety in general is one level of discourse. But the Equal Vehicles for All initiative focuses on the details of the problems, declaring that “it’s time to share more than 40 years of safety research – to make cars safer for everyone. Not just the average male.” Their message is that this measure will lead to safer cars for everyone.

The Volvo experts then elaborate, delving into greater detail about the different injury profiles for men, women and children. The unmentionable suddenly becomes mainstream.

Counter-intuitive strike

One of the ker-pow effects of this injury-focused approach to car purchasing decisions is that it is so counter-intuitive that we can’t help but notice, and can’t help but think about the point behind it all. This gives near-guaranteed attention amid the media maelstrom.

Tesla did something kinda’ similar, but with markedly different strategic intentions, by very publically “giving away” patents to many of its proprietary technologies. In common sense terms and the layman perspective, this is counter-intuitively different from the conventional corporate mantra of ring-fencing and protecting proprietary information and research results as intellectual property most definitely not to be shared.

it seems almost crazy to give away the secrets that a company has spent millions/billions of dollars developing and amassing. But Tesla needed to ensure the success of the entire electric vehicle market, for there to even be a market that the Musk machine could then dominate. Tesla helped make sure this happened by releasing precious know-how that would help kickstart widespread takeup of this relatively new and as-yet-unfamiliar technology. The key to this strategic decision is that this know-how effectively had no value unless Tesla could be sure of success.

Talking turkey

I’d argue that this EVA approach from Volvo is an example of corporate messaging and communication focusing on real-world complexity – warts and all. Like Tesla, they’re establishing the terms of a debate that they’re well-positioned to win.

Yes, a disarmingly honest approach like this will inevitably get highjacked by advertising smart-arses – as in Carlsberg’s 2019 campaign highlighting that it’s probably not the best beer in the world. But this is unproductive

glam-speak that doesn’t benefit anyone except Carlsberg shareholders and ad exec salary packages.

For the more sober, strategic and responsible B2B operation, messaging and communication that address real-world complexity – warts and all – is a much more authentic, viable approach that wins kudos rather than creating scepticism à la Carlsberg.


PS In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I drive a Volvo. My self-rationalising reason-for-purchase lay in the design (mostly of the interior) but I admit that I do feel safe(r) …