OPINION: BEALE ON ... VOLVO

When two people who work in different offices, for different companies, decide at the same time on the same day to launch a below-the-line loyalty scheme ... well, that's the collective unconscious for you.

It's certainly no less plausible an excuse for the latest Garry Lace saga than it is for the weird events that took place in Dalaro, Sweden on 23 October 2003. Are you sitting comfortably? Here's the story.

Last autumn, 32 poor saps from the fishing town of Dalaro all descended on their local Volvo dealership on the same day. All had an indefinable desire to buy the same model of car (the S40 Saloon). None could explain their sudden urge to splurge, but the local dealer (despite looking about as happy as Ed Meyer reading a hoax e-mail) sold 32 cars that day, more than he'd ever sold in a year.

Could it be that the people of Dalaro were affected by what Jung identified as the collective unconscious. The Volvo Car Corp decided to find out more, so commissioned a documentary. You'll find it at www.volvocars.co.uk.

There are interviews with the local residents, Twin Peaks-style shots of the town to an eerie soundtrack. "There's some unconscious feeling that makes me a bit afraid of myself ... like what am I going to do in this car?" one young woman worries. Yeah, well, when you spend half your annual salary on a car on a whim without really understanding why, you wouldn't trust yourself afterwards, would you?

Now the thing about this collective unconsciousness business is that it's quite a lot cheaper than buying a DPS in the colour supps. And, on the evidence of Dalaro, it's clearly a few hundred thousand times more effective. Except, of course, that this Dalaro story is actually an ad (ah, you guessed, didn't you?).

There's an oblique trailer about the mystery running on TV and in the press, directing you to the website to discover more. Now, for this device to work the teasers have to be so damn brilliant that you just can't help but haul your fat arse off your sofa, sprint up a few flights of stairs into your spare room, crank up your computer and, dribbling, log on to find out more. But these Volvo teasers are more likely to get you snoozing than panting.

Which is a shame because if you do get as far as the website you'll find a plausible - though over long - attempt at a wry mockumentary. The acting's good, the spooky small town atmosphere is beautifully realised. It's all quite convincing. Even the puffery bits about the car are sweetly subtly slipped in (no mean feat with sentences like this one, in heavy Swedish accent: "What do you call it? The centre stack in the car also I like ... it's very small. Very thin").

But the whole premise is not interesting enough to entertain the casual viewer and not informative enough for the serious buyer. As a concept for offering greater layers of information in an entertaining and challenging way, it's a brave and interesting strategy, and there are the scraps here of what could have been a brilliant multi-layered campaign. The realisation just doesn't do justice to the scale of the idea and it all really falls down at the first hurdle: those limp press and TV teasers.

Anyway, I think the guys at Volvo must be feeling pretty pleased with this little wheeze because they've also got a spoof website about the spoof website. It's supposed to be the homepage of a Venezuelan film director, Carlos Soto, who made the Dalaro documentary for Volvo. Poor bloke's a bit troubled now because he thinks he may have been duped by the people taking part in his little film. Naive bugger.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Do they have a "best waste of a good idea"

category?

File under ... S for spoof.

What would the chairman's wife say? "That's the Swedes for you."

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