Volvo Cars North America: The XC90 Experience in Volvo Reality

Campaign Summary

Volvo knew that buying any car, especially a luxury car, is a personal experience. People need to see it, touch it, and feel it to truly understand it. But with the new XC90 months from the showroom, the brand had to come up with another way for people to experience it. The solution was Volvo Reality, a virtual test drive using Google Cardboard. Available on both Android and iOS, the Volvo Reality experience combined photoreal CGI and a proprietary 360-degree VR camera technique. This allowed users to get a truly panoramic 360 view inside and outside the car.


Objective and Context:

Volvo had suffered a consistent decline in U.S. market share for a decade, so the brand needed to launch its redesigned flagship SUV, the XC90, in a brand new way. Volvo also wanted to create an addressable audience with whom it could communicate directly. To generate excitement for the XC90, Volvo wanted to let people touch, feel, and experience its new luxury car months before the vehicle launch. The campaign needed to appeal to the luxury buyer, generate leads, and create demand and buzz for a new product. The primary goal was to generate leads, or “handraisers” for dealers to engage with once vehicles arrived at dealerships. Volvo wanted to identify 100,000 handraisers in six months across a multi-phase campaign.

Target Audience:

The target was young, tech-savvy luxury car buyers who wanted something different than the BMW X5 or Audi Q5, and didn’t currently have Volvo in their consideration set.  This new audience was difficult for Volvo to reach and inspire, but the new XC90 was a perfect fit for their lifestyle.  The Volvo reality app allowed Volvo to become relevant to this new audience in a way that was consistent with the brand and in line with the XC90 vehicle.

Creative Strategy:

To get people excited about a car that was months away from launch, Volvo created Volvo Reality, the world’s first virtual reality test drive available to anyone with a smartphone and Google Cardboard, Google’s low-cost VR headset. 


Overall Campaign Execution:

The brand started with direct outreach to key influencers through one-to-one tactics in the mail, event lead capture tactics, and email. With the goal of maximizing media and influencer impact, the app soft launched to a curated list of 15 journalists who cover the intersection of design and technology. The journalists received direct mail packages explaining the product and campaign. As articles broke in publications like Mashable, Fast Company and Digiday, the app was featured at a series of events. A week later, the launch went public through a YouTube homepage takeover and supporting paid, social and organic media, as well as a sweepstakes, where users could enter to win a free Volvo-designed Google Cardboard. The campaign was designed to capture consumers’ emails and physical addresses in order to send high-end direct mail packages and follow-up communications. It culminated at the L.A. Autoshow, where visitors experienced Volvo Reality firsthand in the interactive social booth.

Mobile Execution:

Volvo set out to create a premium aesthetic derived from nature and showcasing the progressive simplicity for which the brand stands. In every digital and virtual reality interface, Volvo emphasized harmony between nature and the XC90. The Virtual Reality headset and promotion collateral was produced with a premium black on black aesthetic to communicate the premium simplicity for which Volvo was known. This black on black aesthetic presented itself throughout the XC90 experience. And, just as the XC90 was setting a new standard in sustainability, the headset technology was printed using sustainable inks.

The execution represented a series of serious firsts, most notably the first truly immersive VR experience to be delivered at scale through a smartphone and a 12 dollar piece of cardboard. Available on both Android and iOS, Volvo Reality was the one of the first Google Cardboard enabled projects to be released cross-platform. The experience combined photoreal CGI and a proprietary 360-degree VR camera technique which allowed users to get a truly panoramic 360 view inside and outside the car, including through the car’s stunning sunroof, and at any and every point of the drive. It also took full advantage of the powers of Google Cardboard and the stereoscopic display built into most smartphones. While other automakers have readily adopted virtual reality experiences with Oculus Rift installations, Volvo Reality was unique in that it was available to anyone with a smartphone.

The app itself was comprised of two 1080p HD videos running simultaneously, compressed and optimized for mobile. It also featured a custom VR plug-in for Unity, an innovation created for this project. In fact, Unity 3D was used to build the experience once, and then deployed to both Android and iOS. This was the first time Unity had been used that way. Finally, the experience worked both with and without a Google Cardboard headset.  The app is currently available in the United States with plans to roll out to international markets through 2015.

Results (including context, evaluation, and market impact)

The campaign generated over 40,000 app downloads. Over 34,000 additional customers raised their hands to be the first to know when an XC90s would be available for purchase. Having captured 34,000 consumers in an engaging and proprietary experience, Volvo is now able to communicate directly with app users through content updates, push notifications, email and targeted paid social ads. This allowed Volvo to prioritize based on users’ levels of engagement and propensity for purchase.  It was a lead generation campaign that created an ongoing, owned direct marketing channel.

The campaign also garnered over 238 million PR impressions, 159 million paid media impressions, 19 million social media impressions, nearly 4 million video views, 24 earned news stories, and a half-million web page views. Most importantly, the entire run of first edition XC90s sold out in less than two days.

Categories: Brand Awareness, Innovation, Mobile Video, Product/Services Launch | Industries: Automotive, Technology | Objectives: Brand Awareness, Innovation, Mobile Video, Product/Services Launch | Awards: Gold Winner, Silver Winner

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