‘Volvo’s’ reflective paint: *sigh*

Here’s someone else’s post about Volvo’s reflective paint.

In case you don’t have time to read all that, here’s the two word summary: it’s bullshit; Grey London has simply rebranded someone else’s product with a Volvo logo. Why? Could it possibly be to win a Cannes Lion or two?

According to the Wired article on the subject:

The spray-on reflective paint appears to be a simple rebranding of Albedo100’s Invisible Bright product. LifePaint is a branding partnership between Volvo, creative agency Grey London, and, of course, Albedo100. In other words, it’s possible to get a similar (if not identical) product here in the US. It’s just not branded as LifePaint.

If you’re wondering why, if LifePaint is intended for fabrics, there’s a brightly glowing bike in its promotional materials, that’s probably a little bit of misdirection on Volvo’s part. Albedo100 also has more permanent solutions in its stable, including “Permanent Metallic,” which is designed to be sprayed onto bikes, signs, and stenciled patterns. That could be what’s lighting up the bike, rather than LifePaint itself.

Yes, kind of odd to recommend the temporary fabric paint for your bike when there’s a more permanent metallic version. Also  interesting that the website doesn’t mention Volvo developing the paint at all (probably because it didn’t). To clarify, this is like Persil Automatic ‘rebranding’ Dyson vacuum cleaners or London Zoo ‘rebranding’ Cadbury’s Animal biscuits. And now that I’ve written that word so many times, I have to say that I’ve never even heard of a ‘rebranding‘ of this nature. I’ve only ever heard of companies rebranding their own products (Jif to Cif or Marathon to Snickers). Is this really a rebranding? Or even a ‘branding partnership’? WTF is a branding partnership anyway? So many questions for a simple purchase/borrowing of one company’s product by another much larger company for purposes that seem really quite strange…

On the positive side, this story has been all over the internet, so I guess it’s caught the imagination of the public, or at least the related websites that are hungry for a story. I suppose it’s also good for the people who have obtained a can of the spray and used it to possibly avoid being hit by a car on a London road at night.

On the negative side it’s unclear how many people fall into that category. The site doesn’t let you buy any, and it appears only to be available as a freebie at a few bike shops around London (I wonder why it’s not for sale. Is it perhaps too expensive for Volvo to subsidise the product of another company to look like they care about road safety? After all, Volvo is a massive corporation that could surely put some distribution muscle behind such a worthy innovation). It all seems a bit weird and complicated with a bunch of inconvenient difficulties being masked by subterfuge.

And that brings me on to the other negative side of this: I’d be delighted if someone at Grey London corrected me, but it appears very much as if someone at the agency came across this niche safety product and persuaded its vaguely related client to… um… Here it gets a little hazy: have they persuaded Volvo to ask to kind of licence the product or promote it (paid or unpaid? No idea) somehow? Clearly they don’t actually make it and equally clearly they haven’t bought the paint manufacturer or its patent so that they ‘own’ this innovation, so I’m a bit confused. What’s in it for Volvo and what have they done to bask in the reflective (pun very much intended) glow of this product? Also, I recall from my time at AMV that Volvo hasn’t traded on its safety angle for many years. They wanted to move away from that, so is this a first step back into that territory? Via the medium of someone else’s spray paint?

If I were a slightly cynical person I’d have to say that this looks a lot like Grey saw a Lion opportunity and did what many scamsters do: they retrofitted someone else’s brilliance onto one of their clients in order to spend a lot of time walking up to podiums at awards shows.

It’s like this:

That was originally a short film by an excellent animator called Tim Hope. The film was bought, a Playstation logo was added to the end and awards were won. However, that happened in the pre-YouTube days, where every ‘inspiration’ was not so easily found. Since then, after the Cog rip off furore and its many, many children, the slapping of a logo on an existing piece of work has been somewhat frowned upon. Despite it often producing some excellent advertising it has also produced a great deal of dismay and embarrassment because it made our job look easy and its practitioners lazy. After all, if you could just spend a few days trawling the internet for whatever’s interesting, find a tenuous connection to your client and put its logo on the end, why would you deserve to be well paid? A creatively-minded student on a zero-hours contract could get pretty close to what your six-figure adland creatives are supposedly capable of, which is why so many creative departments now look as if they’re composed more substantially of the former than the latter.

Has it caused such problems? Well, take a look at creative salaries these days and compare them to their pre-internet juiciness. Coincidence? It might be, but of course it isn’t. The people who pay our wages listen as we call them up, cravenly rubbing our hands together like Uriah Heep, as we beg ever so ‘umbly for the chance to run this little knockoff spot at 3:30am on Granada Men and Motors. Then they think we’re just a little bit more pathetic than they thought we were before the request. Then they remember the whole incident when it comes to financial negotiations. Of course, they didn’t come right out and say it when the figure at the bottom of the contract was a little less than last time, in fact it may not even have been a conscious decision, but somewhere in the back of their minds they thought a bit less of us and acted accordingly.

This can of paint bollocks is just another example of that. I’m sure it’ll be voted into awards shows from London to Lebanon, then held up by stupid people as an example of what we can achieve if we’re allowed to innovate, to truly be let off the creative leash, but in the end it’s just another nail in the coffin for advertising’s credibility. It’s not solving a business problem for Volvo, and the only skill it’s demonstrating on Grey London’s behalf is the ability to produce award-winning work from the easiest of non-briefs, then negotiate permission from a client to be allowed to play a silly little game called ‘Win The Pencil’.

I think it’s appropriate on Easter Sunday to say Jesus fucking Christ…