Back2Basics: Creativity in B2B? Now there’s a challenge!
by Mark Eardley. 85,863,641. That’s eighty-five million, eight-hundred-and-sixty-three thousand, six hundred and forty-one. Early-ish in April 2017, that’s how many views an ad by Volvo Trucks had clocked-up since it appeared on Volvo’s YouTube site on 13 November 2013. Jean-Claude van Damme, an Enya soundtrack, two trucks, two drivers, one take and the best part of 86m YouTube views. Wow!
But, wait, it gets galactically better. Van Damme’s epic split between two reversing trucks that slowly inch apart — gasp! — is just one in a series of Live Test ads each demonstrating a technical feature in Volvo’s latest range of heavyduty trucks. And the series’ views keep on rising — already way past the 100m mark — as does the viewers’ hyperbolic adulation of these extraordinary ads. Plus, lots of awards for the agency, Sweden’s Forsman & Bodenfors, and masses of chattering applause in the marketing and general media. The ad industry’s gong-giving has been overwhelming and its incestuous back-slapping is probably audible on the space station.
But did it move the metal?
Extraordinary they may be but did they move the metal? Nobody’s saying. A Wall Street Journal article headlined “The Van Damme Dividend” says Volvo’s heavy-truck sales in November 2013 were 31% higher than in the previous November. That’s a pretty stupid headline comment, marrying as it does a mega jump in sales to an ad that only appeared on the 13th day of the month in question. I betcha nobody — but nobody — watched the slick, theatrical circus of the ‘epic split’ and said, “Whoa! We gotta buy lotsa Volvos in the next fortnight!” And it’s also inconceivable that anyone in the trucking game had never heard of Volvo’s trucks; they’re second only to the three-pointed star in the global heavy-truck market. Nevertheless, it’s great hype.
In fact, it’s hype, hype, hype all the way, up to the point where the proverbial elephant-in-the-room poses its awkward question: is the campaign moving metal? That old elephant, hey, just can’t help but poop at the party.
The stock response from Volvo Truck’s PR and marketing departments and the award-laden agency is that they can’t possibly comment on sales figures. I wonder why? If attributed sales were leaping off the wall-chart, we’d surely be hearing about it. Big time.
“If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative” — David Ogilvy
Ogilvy also said, “Don’t count the people you reach, reach the people who count.” With that in mind, perhaps ask yourself how many of the multimillions of Volvo Trucks’ YouTube viewers are ever going to influence — in any way at all — the decision to buy any sort of heavy-duty truck?
Now for the tricky question: who does influence truck-buying decisions?
Well, it appears that Volvo Trucks already knows a whole bunch of these influencers. Not surprisingly, they’re working in, er, transportation companies. After the Van Damme ad went galactic, it surveyed companies in that market segment to gauge their reactions to the Live Test ads.
According to an article in Campaign, Volvo Trucks commissioned the respected market researcher, GfK, to survey 2 200 of these companies in Sweden, France, Germany, UK, Spain, Poland, Russia and Brazil between December 2013 and January 2014. Half of the trucking companies surveyed operated Volvos and the other half didn’t.
The results? Epically anaemic, to put it mildly. Campaign’s article says that, “of the respondents who had seen ‘epic split’, [What?! There were some who hadn’t seen it?] 24 per cent said they took action after seeing it (either visiting a Volvo website or contacting a dealer), 19 per cent said they intended to take action, and 57 per cent said they did not intend to take action”.
The greatest-ever hoopla in the trucking world and over half of the target market just couldn’t care less. Hmmm…
More to the point, did any of the 1 100 non-Volvo operators switch to Volvo in the coming months and years? Who knows? And the coy folks at Volvo Trucks ain’t telling.
B2B’s creative challenge: too tough to handle?
B2B places huge — yes, huge — demands on creative minds. The challenge is to differentiate an offering from its competitors in such a way that it generates sales to long-term customers. That’s a hard task for even the most creative.
Too many B2B marketers, and their agencies, fail to address the challenge because they lack accurate insights into their customers’ buying motivators and how buying decisions are influenced. The result? B2B marketing has been branded as a discipline where there is no room for creativity. That dumb assertion is justified by the mantra that B2B is inherently boring and therefore outcast from the minds of so-called ‘creatives’. The real truth is that too many marketers have decided that B2B’s creative challenge — generating profitable sales — is too great and simply given up.
Volvo Trucks are certainly being highly original in the live test series. Nobody had ever before seen a hamster steering a truck around the precipitous roads of a huge quarry or a plucky paraglider being towed, happily still airborne, under a road bridge by a truck.
Trouble is, in terms of Ogilvy’s definition, none of this seems to be creative. It’s just whacky. And being whacky doesn’t motivate trucking companies to buy trucks. What’s worse is that the series may well have had a negative effect: positioning Volvo Trucks as a brand that doesn’t take its customer’s needs very seriously. Not good.
- Best Marketing: Case Study: Volvo Trucks Live Test Series
- Contagious: Insight & Strategy: Live Tests
- Adweek: Undivided Attention: How ‘Epic Split’ Became the Buzziest Ad at Cannes
Mark Eardley is the author, together with Charlie Stewart, of Business-to-Business Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide (Penguin Random House), which offers practical, actionable advice on how to make marketing make money. Both he and Charlie will be speaking at the forthcoming B2B Trade Conference on 18–19 May 2017, Emperor’s Palace Convention Centre, Johannesburg, organised by Vukani Communications. Mark contributes the monthly “Back2Basics” column, covering how B2B companies and their agencies should manage their marketing, to MarkLives.com.