“Split” TV Commercial — Great for Van Damme, Maybe Not So Much for Volvo

Volvo2Before we start with my take on this admittedly “epic” television commercial (more than eight million views on YouTube in little more than a week), let’s take a refresher look at it .

Now no one can argue it’s not attention-getting. I think it’s absolutely riveting. Executionally, it grabs the viewer quickly, and with a subtle hint of mystery, “what’s going on here? ”

Van Damme himself is compelling. Like him or not (and there are large numbers of folks on both sides of that proposition), he projects a powerful stage presence that holds the viewer and drags him deeper into the commercial. Even if you have no idea who the guy is, you sense this unknown individual is trying to communicate something important, and apparently thinks he is aptly suited to do so.

And so, we get to the camera reveal and see he is straddling two large trucks as they back up and separate to a wider and wider distance, hence the “Split.”

And you say, “Wow!” At least I did, and I’ve seen my share of epic commercials.

However, the big question is does it sell big trucks, specifically VOLVO big trucks?


Mediapost.com advertising columnist Barbara Lippert certainly thinks so. “This is completely unique. It’s an incredible human way to show the equilibrium of the steering of the truck,” she says, adding that “anyone who knows anyone who drives a truck or owns a truck will mention it to them. People love this stuff.”


Toby Southgate, CEO Americas at branding agency Brand Union says, “It only helps the advertiser if people make the connection between the content and the brand. Otherwise, the viewer may recall the actors, the music or the stunts in isolation.”


I guess I’m in the “dissenter” camp, regarding this commercial’s effectiveness in actually selling trucks (but you already knew that given the headline on this post). I have watched and re-watched it, and thrilled to the execution’s raw power as an  electronic communication.

That said, aside from “some” rise in brand awareness of “Volvo,” as a maker of big trucks, I can’t honestly say there would be much registration in viwers’ minds of the rational attributes that might induce them to consider Volvo. Just reciting copy points voiceover, doesn’t mean they’re heard.

On the other, “emotional” side (the other critical half of effective branding I write about here often), I think Van Damme’s personality in the commercial (whether viewers know him or not), just soaks all that energy up to him personally and interrupts any chance the Volvo brand gains from the potential transference the commercial creators were hoping for.

Said another way, Van Damme’s indisputably the STAR of this commercial and basically sucks all the marketing oxygen out of it. Don’t know if Volvo’s truck sales will rise, but can almost bet that at the age of 53, Jean Claude Van Damme’s waning career will definitely register an upturn. Get ready for a few more movies, at a minimum.

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