For immediate release
TORONTO (December 20, 2005) – For a highly recognizable company such as Volvo Car Corporation, sponsorships are an excellent way to gain increased exposure by supporting sports and activities closely associated with the brand. In fact, talk to any marketing guru at Volvo’s Canadian outfit and they’ll wax on about how their customers love to golf and ski.
But ask if their buyers will also organize a crew of 11, spend $20 million on a boat and months of their lives sailing 30,000 nautical miles through some of the world’s most treacherous seas, and you get a very different answer.
“Well, no,” says Lisa Graham, Brand Communications Manager for Volvo Cars of Canada Ltd. “Not exactly.” However, she’s quick to add that Volvo buyers aren’t foreign to the open water. “Visit the parking lot of any yacht club you’ll find a healthy percentage of the cars will wear a Volvo badge on the grille.”
In the late Nineties, the two Volvo companies in Sweden (the well known carmaker and the truck and bus maker that shares its name) signed an agreement to sponsor the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR). Originally established in 1973 as the Whitbread Round the World Race, the VOR – held every four years – is viewed as the most extreme yacht race in the world. From November until June, 2006, seven sleek sailing sloops will race to ports in nine countries on five continents, vying to be declared the fastest yacht in the world.
It almost seems counterintuitive: a car company trying to promote its products in Canada through a boat race over seas Volvo drivers will likely never visit. Or sail, for that matter.
“It’s all about brand perception,” says Graham. “Volvo vehicles are often viewed as safe, luxurious rides. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not the whole picture. The Volvo Ocean Race, on the other hand, is far from safe. And it’s definitely not luxurious.”
The VOR is a hard-edged, extreme adventure with crews fighting against high winds, 10-metre waves and unrelenting exhaustion as they struggle to reach the finish line first. Because it’s the undeniable polar-opposite to how the public perceives the brand, Volvo hopes it will impact how the public perceives the brand going forward. The only kink to the plan is that the VOR doesn’t stop in Canada. Graham admits that did present a problem, at least initially.
The company’s first step was to contact Mindblossom. The Toronto-based interactive marketing agency specializes in developing Web advertising applications that grab a user’s attention and hold on to it.
“Our challenge is that the average Web user will spend mere seconds on a site,” says Daren Trousdell managing partner for Mindblossom. “Volvo asked us to find a way to not only keep the Canadian public’s attention on the company, but also integrate a viral component to it.”
The answer? Take the Volvo Ocean Race online. “We’ve developed a game so fans can get involved in the healthy, competitive spirit of the race, but won’t have to endure any of the negatives,” says Trousdell. “I mean, who really wants to eat the same freeze-dried food at sub-zero temperatures for weeks on end?”
The boats are formed by a ‘Skipper’ who must recruit two friends into the game. All three people must answer the set list of questions about the VOR, the crews and Volvo vehicles. Points are awarded for speed and accuracy and the combined scores of all three crew members push the virtual boat along the race course.
The top 10 boats of each of the five qualifying legs will win Volvo Ocean Race gear and the top three will qualify for the final, sixth race. The virtual boat that wins the final leg will be awarded a trip for six to Göteborg, Sweden, to be at the finish line when the real Volvo Ocean Race concludes in early June.
“We’ve found that people end up challenging friends or developing inter-office rivalries,” says Trousdell. “Almost 1,200 boats with crews of three participants are playing the game after only two weeks of going live and because it’s a knowledge-based game, it forces users to constantly circulate through Volvo’s web pages to learn about the Ocean Race and Volvo.”
In an effort to widen exposure to the race, Volvo looked to establish a relationship with Canadian Yachting Magazine and get race updates into the sports pages of online giant SympaticoMSN. “By connecting with these two media partners, we were able to gain access to a group of readers who show an interest in both the world of boating as well as extreme sports,” says Trousdell.
Offline, more touch-points will send people to Volvo Canada’s web site. A print campaign developed by Volvo’s advertising agency, Sharpe Blackmore EURO RSCG, and television created by Sharpe Blackmore and edited by Blue Moon Productions will appear in Canadian media outlets throughout the next nine months. Because each of the seven boats are equipped with video cameras to catch all of the action, the footage from the race has been packaged as a sports feature and will be aired weekly on television networks across Canada.
All aspects of the program meet at the company’s Web site (www.volvocanada.com), so it's easy for an online game player, a television viewer or yacht enthusiast to find other Volvo Ocean Race activities.
According to Graham, comprehensive and cost-effective cross-channel marketing programs like the VOR promotion are necessary in today’s hyper-competitive automobile market. “The traditional means of marketing just won’t work anymore,” she says. “You constantly have to find new and different ways to reach your audience. But it’s also not enough to only reach them for a single moment in time. You also have to educate, entertain and engage them so that they develop an ongoing affinity with the brand.”
Perhaps marketing cars through a boat race doesn’t seem as counter-intuitive after all.
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