A David Abbott classic today. His ad for Volvo in 1983 during his time at AMV. For those that have read D&AD’s “The Copy Book”, you’ll recognise it.
As most copywriters and advertisers know, well any creator for that matter, being safe doesn’t really get you anywhere. You need to push boundaries. Stick it all on the line.
And Abbott does that here – quite literally.
(In case you hadn’t spotted him… he’s laying beneath the suspended Volvo 740.)
As most will know, Abbott was an advocate for putting yourself into your ads. His words:
“Put yourself into your work. Use your life to animate your copy. If something else moves you, chances are, it will touch someone else, too.”
And I don’t think enough of us do.
I’m cautious of going off on a tangent here, but you need to develop your own style – like any creator. Yes, you need to take on the voice of your client, but you can also let your style come through. Actors are a great example. You wouldn’t hire Will Ferrell for a serious drama, would you? Actors take on the required role in the film, but there’s always an element of their character that stays consistent across multiple movies.
The same applies to advertising. Certain copywriters, art directors, or creative directors are best suited for specific roles. They naturally resonate and fit the type of work. So, without bringing out the crystal ball and sparkly bits of fabric… try to stay true to yourself.
Anyway, let’s have a look at the ad in more detail.
Art and Headline
Straight headline. Bent visual. In fact, you can’t really get a straighter, more direct headline. It states the risk and spells out the ad.
I really like the angle the car is falling from. It might be natural, but it’s clever. Look how it alters the perception of the size of the car. Had it been hanging from its roof and the shot been a side profile, the car would have looked smaller to the reader. It would have taken up less space and not dwarfed David as it does.
The shadow over David only enhances this contrast further, and the risk perception, meaning the message of the ad (that Volvos are well built), carries more impact.
Also, be mindful of your eye path. Notice how Abbott laying beneath the car also pulls your eyes to the headline.
Like many great ads, there’s no logo on the ad either. This seems to be a ‘bit of a trend’ because the Chivas ad from last time had no logo either. It shows a lot more confidence, not just in the product but in the ad concept itself. Compare that with today’s average ad logo size… well, it speaks volumes.
Main-Body and Structure
The copy is hard to read, so I’ve re-written it here for you.
And this is how I’ve broken the ad up. It fits the well known AID(A) structure.
It’s quite an intimate ad. It feels personal. And this makes the ad seem more believable and trustworthy.
Abbott ties in the product just to clarify to the reader that they’re reading an ad. A nice level of honesty – not shying away from the fact it’s an ad.
David continues to build interest and curiosity with the reader here. He doesn’t really give anything new away, just reframes what he’s already said – or what the reader can see.
Also, note how it’s not just “welding” (from the headline) it’s now a “spot weld”. This focus magnifies the risk and, as a result, the message. They’re proving their cars are strong, right down to the small details.
Abbott also develops the personal feel he’s created with: “crawled underneath”. It is visual and shows honesty. It plays on the pre-existing anxiety built from the art, deepening the emotional connection with the ad.
Abbott’s wit – which he was famous for – comes through and makes the end of this section more amusing – “and I lived to tell the tale”. The casual, chatty tone helps disarm the reader’s mental resistance to the ad and builds a better relationship with them. In turn, this makes the message more believable.
I like how the start of this section kind of re-focuses you. It’s like “fun and games are over, now time for business” and it plays up the importance of the next sentence by attuning your attention – “But the real point of the story is this”.
Then, the features of the new Volvo 740 are all listed in one sentence. This has an ‘overwhelming’ effect and helps you get more bang for your buck. If the cadence wasn’t right, this wouldn’t work. So it’s not just about listing features endlessly – it needs to sound right too.
As Abbott said, “you’d better learn how to write a list so that it doesn’t read like a list”.
It also taps into the fact that you can still trust Volvo, despite so much changing. The earlier body shape had its own associations and relationship with the reader – and a new shape is almost like starting again. Abbott helps bridge the existing trust by stating new benefits vs the old. This could also be why the ad has such a disarming tone.
He then repeats the key message – and plays with it – “It’s so well built you can bet your life on it.” A common idiom that everyday people are familiar with but now has a literal meaning which the ad proves.
And there you are. Finished.
Thanks for reading.
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