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How Advertisers Can Learn From Volvo and Van Damme’s Epic Split Stunt

Updated on November 20, 2013

Van Damme Split Stunt

Attribution: By Uberix (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Attribution: By Uberix (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Enter the World of "Epicness"

The serenity of the scene can almost be felt as the one minute, sixteen second video begins. The sun is rising in the background, the gold tones and luxurious lines of the trucks are sublime and Van Damme’s cool composure is almost unsettling.

His arms are folded, “Only Time,” by Enya is playing, and with eyes closed he summons the energy of the universe.

We enter into his thought-world as he narrates, contemplating his life’s “bumpy roads and heavy winds,” which, he says, “are what made me who I am today.”

He completes the lead-in with the words, “a body crafted to perfection, a pair of legs engineered to defy the laws of physics, a mindset to master the most epic of splits.”

The underlying message of those statements is more apparent a few seconds later.

Advertising Is Just Not What it used to Be

The word epic used to refer a very long story, such as the Iliad or the Lord of the Rings. In more recent times a lot of things are “epic.” You have your epic rap battles, epic fails, the epic sax guy, and as of last week, Volvo and Van Damme’s epic split.

A welcome diversion, this short video artfully captured the world's attention while subtly driving home a message about Volvo's new Dynamic Steering System. The commercial is "epic for several reasons, but one that is most interesting is what it says about the newest trends in the world of advertising.

Advertisers would do well to examine this commercial, try to understand the significance of it and learn to apply the lessons within.

Painfully Epic

The camera pans out and only then are we struck by the sheer madness of what is about to take place. Jean Claude is precariously perched on the side mirrors, between the two semi-trucks and they are moving backwards, perfectly synchronized.

Note that it is not as easy as these guys make it look to drive a semi backwards and keep it straight. Hence the reference to engineering and crafting to perfection.

The trucks slowly move apart until Van Damme’s legs are splayed out -perfectly horizontal, making the video, at this point, almost painful to watch.

The camera pans out and to the side as the death- defying (or potentially maiming) ride continues for a few more seconds. The trucks and sunrise end up perfectly framed as the picture fades and a barely visible message states the test was set up to demonstrate the Dynamic Steering System.

What lingers is mental imagery strong enough to cause leg cramps and nightmares.


No Pain, No Gain

What Volvo does in this commercial is a perfect example of forward-thinking advertising. This advertisement is not designed for mere insertion into the middle of a television show. It has not been assigned a spot as an annoying interruption in someone’s favorite program.

Instead, It is something millions of people will want to look up on Youtube for a long time to come. It will, inevitably, be used as a reference point for many conversations on a variety of topics ranging from Van Damme's career and movies, to martial arts and physical fitness for seniors, to innovations in the auto industry. This, in turn, means it will be viewed by an ever widening audience.

Another side-effect of watching the video is "serial video watching." Once the video ends on Youtube, viewers are offered a menu of other videos on the topic, or on similar topics. In this case, there are a number of additional videos that can be watched on topics such as the way the stunt was set up, what went into the making of the video, a discussion with Van Damme before the shoot, and one of Van Damme test-driving one of Volvo's trucks and commenting about how he wished he could have this steering system in his car.

The video aired on November 14th and within 48 hours had gone viral, having been viewed over 13 million times. By the following Sunday evening, the count was up to 22,000,000 views.

If you haven't seen it yet, it is a must-watch.

Volvo Trucks - The Epic Split feat.Van Damme

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How Advertisers Can Learn

The bottom line is that in order to be successful, advertisers need to start moving in new directions. Advertising is changing and it is wise to attempt to impress a wider audience, including those who may still be too young to drive a truck, or immediately purchase a product, because it is never too early for brand loyalty.

To win the hearts of the people, advertisers need to create unique, internet-relevant advertising that is capable of becoming memorable. It must go viral and it must be epic. Additionally, advertisers should be sure they are capable of the follow-through.

It is not enough to just come up with an epic video.The product, as seen in this case, is Volvo’s new Dynamic Steering System. Three years in development, the Dynamic Steering System appears to be, as the commercial seeks to prove, capable of facilitating the precision driving that was needed for this feat. A highly intuitive electric motor guided by driver input and onboard sensors combined with hydraulic steering apparently can deliver on the promise of optimal control in epic proportions.

Standing behind it is a company that could be said to be epic as well. Founded in 1927 and built on the principles of quality, innovation and safety, Volvo has continued a tradition of impacting the entire industry with its products, and can rightfully stand alongside an iconic figure like Van Damme.


Are they Crazy, or Crazy-Smart?

The epic Van Damme split is not the only crazy video Volvo has put out. It is a part of a larger effort by the company to get their message out. It is a part of a campaign, “Crazy Stunts with Our Trucks,” that has provided mounting evidence of the validity of their claims about the Dynamic Steering System.

In one video, a ballerina crosses from one truck to another on a cable as they are driven towards twin tunnels. She makes it to her destination atop the second truck and hunkers down just before they enter the tunnels and the cable is snapped.

In another insane spot, which has been viewed over 5 million times, a hungry hamster in a running wheel attached to the steering wheel of a truck is manipulated by the driver, who is holding a carrot. “Charlie” successfully steers the truck up a dangerously steep, narrow and winding dirt road in a quarry, cheered on by the Volvo team.

The Hamster Stunt

Splitting the Profits?

It could be said that both Volvo and Van Damme “nailed it” in this video. More than likely, sales of Van Damme movies will increase, as will interest in the Dynamic Steering System, and potentially Volvo sales.

Success in advertising used to come from having catchy tag-lines, snazzy logos and annoyingly contagious jingles. These elements may still be relevant for advertisers, but there is a new paradigm being ushered in.

Will even more advertisers depart from traditional advertising and embrace the new trend? And if so, where does the road lead? It would seem obvious that those wishing to capture the attention and cash of the newest crop of consumers would do well to take heed to the split.


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