Bold Moves | Strategy in Perspective
Poetic License: Volvo Calls on Walt Whitman for Latest Campaign
We’ve written before about how advertising has made sharp turn away from the more traditional, value-driven and luxury messaging that has always been inherent in selling big-ticket items [read our post on the Lincoln MKX campaign here].
Today’ auto industry is no longer speaking to the Lexus driver, that aging baby-boomer who is looking to reward himself with perhaps the last car he’ll drive before he’s loaded into a hearse (and yes, the auto industry still largely targets men over women.)
This self-discovery through aimless wandering is precisely what Whitman was writing about, although he probably wasn’t talking about doing it in a car.
Now it’s the skeptical Millennial, a consumer who demands that every brand story be about him. Volvo has done just that with its latest campaign for the brand’s S90 series called “Song of the Open Road.” Produced by Grey Advertising, the ad has been running virtually non-stop since it debuted in August 2016.
The title gets its name from the poem by Walt Whitman published in 1856 in the volume, Leaves of Grass. The ad begins with a voice-over of the poem’s opening lines:
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
That’s the voice of Josh Brolin you hear, who was hired to narrate the ad.
In the 30-second version (the one most of us end up seeing), we watch as a hipster-type dude in a somber modernist bungalow becomes angst-ridden over his inability to write. He scrambles out of his house and speeds down a long dusty highway through a desert, a free man in search of a new destiny.
Our protagonist is an exhausted, alcoholic-looking man who at one point pulls over on Highway 1 and stares out to sea, looking for his “Truth”.
In the full-length version (nearly 3-minutes), we see a collection of metaphors: a burning tree, two children wearing strange masks, a galloping buffalo, and lots of nature in all it’s majesty.
Indeed, this self-discovery through aimless wandering is precisely what Whitman was writing about, although he probably wasn’t talking about doing it in a car, and certainly not one as expensive as the Volvo S90.
Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,
It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.
In an interview with Adweek, Grey Advertising’s Matt O’Rourke and Janique Helsen explain that the whole point of the ad was less about the car and more about telling a story in a non-linear way, and thus drawing the viewer into a more abstract relationship with the ad.
Our protagonist is an exhausted, alcoholic-looking man who at one point pulls over on Highway 1 and stares out to sea, looking for his “Truth,” the latest catch-word for raison d’être. We become him, a man who cries out, “enough!” at the world and removes himself from the chaos of our commodified existence built around work and money.
Interestingly, the ad is remarkably similar to the closing episode of “Mad Men,” when Don Draper finds himself at Esalen in Big Sur, shaggy and desperate to find meaning in his life.
And while the ad takes considerable liberties in condensing and in some cases, re-writing Whitman’s 2,700 word poem into 30 or 60-seconds the result is an ad that manages to make us forget Volvo and stay true to Whitman’s ultimate question:
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
The answer of course, is yes, so long as it is with a Volvo. With Volvo, we can live a purist’s life of organic luxury, an idealized self, and the glory of the open road.
>> Click here to read the entire Walt Whitman poem in its original form.