Volvo Trucks: Live Test Series – The Epic Split




The trucking industry is a traditional business-to-business environment in which it’s quite a challenge to introduce a radically new communication approach.

In addition, the target group of truck purchasers is scattered and difficult to reach. There are many influencers around each buyer, ranging from drivers, family and friends to trade press journalists.

Volvo Trucks and their Swedish independent agency partner Forsman & Bodenfors knew that the most obvious way to reach their core target group would be a ‘catch-all’ broadcast marketing approach. But ‘reaching’ doesn’t equate to ‘connecting’, plus there was no allowance for the huge media budget needed to conduct a global advertising campaign to launch their new truck models.


The solution to both the targeting and budgeting challenges was to embrace the new media landscape.

Forsman & Bodenfors’ idea adhered to Volvo Trucks’ communications strategy in which innovation plays a key role. The agency devised an online marketing campaign using branded video content presented on Volvo Trucks’ YouTube channel. Called the ‘Live Test Series’, the campaign consists of a group of online films, each showcasing a different new Volvo truck feature being put through its paces in a live test.

However, this was not going to be any ordinary product review; the live experiments had to test the chosen features in informative, astonishing and entertaining ways, designed to focus on the trucks and catch the attention of the widest possible target audience. The aim of this creative strategy was to generate viral hits and a subsequent wave of (free) media publicity, effectively driving positive word of mouth about the film content that was relevant to both trucking and non-trucking audiences.

True to this strategy, the first five online films include one in which two trucks race towards a tunnel while a woman walks across a wire between them and another in which a truck takes part in a bull run. The former film generated nine million views.

The sixth film in the Live Test Series – ‘The Epic Split’ – is an even better example of the power of this strategy, with the added twist of a celebrity participant whose existing fanbase helped drive word of mouth.

The starting point for ‘The Epic Split’ came from talking to Volvo’s technicians about the film’s chosen feature: Volvo Dynamic Steering. This system combines conventional hydraulic powered steering with an electric motor fitted to the truck’s steering gear. The electric motor receives 2,000 signals per second from the truck’s sensors, allowing for more precise steering and a more relaxed and ergonomically designed experience for truck drivers.

To demonstrate this stability and precision, the creative team worked closely with film director Andreas Nilsson to come up with the idea of a spectacular stunt: actor Jean-Claude Van Damme slowly performs a split while standing on the side mirrors between two Volvo FM trucks – that are driving backwards at 15 miles/25 kms per hour as they move apart!

Filmed in one astounding 76-second take after three days’ practice at a Spanish airfield, the film was designed to work on two levels: most viewers are expected to think “Wow, Jean-Claude Van Damme”, but the core target audience is expected to think “Wow, two trucks are able to be driven in reverse like this”.


Within the first three months of its launch in November 2013, ‘The Epic Split’ achieved:

  • 70 million+ views (10 million within the first 48 hours)
  • 8 million+ shares
  • Most shared video in the world within week one
  • Most watched automotive ad ever on YouTube
  • 20,000+ editorials globally online, in print and on TV (inc. general press and all major automotive and trucking press)
  • 5 million+ shares
  • #6 in YouTube’s Top Ten Trending 2013, a list that draws from all YouTube content across all categories, including babies and music videos that tend to generate the highest engagement
  • Earned media value of €126 million

The media landscape is changing. We have different media consumption habits today than a couple of years ago. That’s why, starting with the Live Test Series, we’re investing in this cost-efficient way of reaching out to millions of people via online branded content marketing.

Anders Vilhelmsson,PR Manager, Volvo Trucks


The Live Test Series has not used any traditional paid media – YouTube is its only media channel. The relevance and power of the branded content itself has kickstarted organic distribution, editorial coverage, wider interactions and an upsurge in awareness of the Volvo Trucks brand and product messages, both online and via the Volvo Trucks global dealer network.

The Series has already won the Grand Prix award for Branded Content & Entertainment at Eurobest 2013. And, in the ultimate evidence that ‘The Epic Split’ film has entered a wider cultural consciousness, it has already inspired a raft of consumer-generated spoof versions, some of which have racked up 50 million views themselves.
Volvo Trucks will continue to release more Live Test Series stunt films, paving the way for future advertising and sales campaigns in local markets.

This case study was originally published in the 2014 Edition of Best of Branded Content Marketing (BOBCM), co-edited by Justin Kirby and Greta MacFarlane.

About the author

Justin Kirby is a consultant, educator and thought leader with a 20+ year career in industry as a digital strategist, producer and entrepreneur. He chairs and speaks at conferences around the globe, judge industry awards, and advise brands and agencies.