Vamps and Volvos

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 10 2009 12:50 PM

Vamps and Volvos

The Twilight Saga: New Moon opens nationwide one week from Friday. The attendant hype machine is already in overdrive. Among its more curious offshoots: a promotional tie-in with automaker Volvo. The marketing effort includes product placement (lead vamp Edward Cullen drives a Volvo XC60 in the film), a contest (to win an XC60 just like Edward's), a Web site ( WhatDrivesEdward.com ), and a Twilight -themed Volvo television ad .

When I first saw this ad, two questions sprung immediately to mind: 1) Aren't 'tween girls the core audience for the Twilight series? A 'tween can't obtain a driver's license, never mind afford a relatively pricey set of wheels like a Volvo. 2) Aren't vampires basically immortal? Volvo's central brand attribute is safety, which makes it an odd choice for a driver who can't die. Shouldn't Edward be tooling around in something delightfully risky, like a two-seater convertible without a roll bar? Or a vintage Pinto?

According to Volvo national advertising manager Linda Gangeri, the relationship with the Twilight series happened partly by accident. Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight books , made Edward a Volvo driver before there was any financial benefit to doing so. When the first Twilight film came out, Volvo execs were shocked to see how much screen time Edward's Volvo received—a full four minutes, which is a lifetime in the world of product placement. The first film's huge success made it imperative for Volvo to get involved with the sequel.

Gangeri claims that while 'tweens can't drive or buy cars, they have significant input into their parents' car-buying decisions. Also, she argues that Twilight in fact appeals to female fans of all ages—including "Twi-moms." Gangeri says that Volvo as a brand skews slightly female, and the partnership with the film is an effective way to get visuals of the XC60 in front of female moviegoers.

As for Edward the vampire, it turns out he drives a Volvo not for himself but to safeguard human friends who ride in the passenger seats. So his character is nurturing and protective, yet also sleek and sexy. Those are exactly the qualities that Volvo hopes consumers will associate with its cars.

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Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

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