Family cars. Family entertainment. It's a winning combination for Volvo, which as of June 28 had logged almost 32,000 registrants for an online game tied to the latest movie in Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise.
The game, which ran June 12 to July 12, was primarily intended to bring people into Volvo showrooms to sell down the 2006 models before the 2007 models arrive in September. Not at all incidentally, though, it's also meant to help Volvo shed its safe, sedate reputation in favor of a more fun and adventurous (though still family-friendly) image.
Developed by the automaker's own in-house creative team in Southern California, the campaign was a clever solution to a marketing conundrum: how to use Volvo's exclusive automotive marketing rights for "Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest." Obviously, a movie about adventure on the high seas in the 19th century offered no opportunities for product placement, says Linda Gangeri, Volvo's national advertising manager. But all pirate stories involve buried treasure-- so Volvo decided to bury some "treasure" and create an interactive campaign where the public could compete to find it.
As anyone who spots a Volvo TV spot or banner ad quickly learns, somewhere in the world is a top-of-the-line XC90 SUV, customized with swashbuckling extras like a one-of-a-kind "Pirates" paint job. The car has been cached in a sealed container and buried underground in a secret location, and the person who finds it takes it home. The only way to find it: Visit Volvo's website and sign up for "The Hunt."
Signing up for "The Hunt" required consumers to visit a Volvo dealership-- the only place to acquire a password for the online game. After providing a valid email address, participants received a total of 15 clues, doled out over the course of four weeks and getting progressively more difficult. Each clue offered a hint to a puzzle on the online map; players had to solve the puzzle and submit the solution online.
Although the clues went out throughout the game, Gangeri notes that past clues are archived on the website, and competitors could sign up through July 11. Although latecomers had to work harder to catch up, victory depended on smarts as well as speed. The first three U.S. competitors to solve all 15 puzzles and submit the correct final answer at the end will be taken in mid-August to the secret site where the car is buried. There, they'll compete against winners from the UK, Japan, Spain and Austria in a real-world treasure hunt for the four-wheeled prize.
Response to the campaign has been unlike anything Volvo has ever seen before, Gangeri says. Visitors to the treasure hunt website stay an average of 30 minutes per visit. They're swapping clues, guesses and hints on the blog Volvo set up for "The Hunt," and more impressively, they're doing the same on at least a dozen other gaming blogs, some of them started specifically to discuss "The Hunt." Members of the creative team monitor customer feedback daily and even respond to it from time to time, but they're not giving away answers-- much to the chagrin of one especially dedicated gamer who somehow got Gangeri's direct phone line and called her on June 27, begging for hints!
In another measure of success, Volvo has tracked more than 8,000 clicks from the treasure hunt site to Volvo's online "configurator," which allows users to price various combinations of features on all its models-- an indication of interest in making a purchase, Gangeri points out: "Our overall goal is to generate interest in the brand, and it definitely seems to be working."
Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer. Read her full bio.