I was recently sent a link to this super-smart sounding new Volvo XC40 campaign featuring pregnant women and I was thrilled. Pregnant women are seriously underrepresented in advertising, and if they’re included at all, as a 2017 PopSugar article pointed out, “pregnancy is either used as part of a punchline, to sell something related to babies, or to convey a feeling of wholesome family goodness.” So a campaign for a car brand built around safety, featuring only pregnant women, seemed a step in the right direction.
Then I read further. The agency worked with Volvo of North Miami to hold a casting call for pregnant women to be in their ads, with the goal of SUBTLY SELLING THEM THE CARS AS THEY MEMORIZED THE LINES FOR THE ADS.
So you’re bringing in pregnant women to be in a commercial — okay, I’m with you so far — and then you prey on their fears and discomfort and possibly even hot flashes to persuade them into taking a test drive?
Are you meconium-ing me? (I’ll let you look that one up, non-parents.)
To quote the CCO of the highly awarded agency responsible for the stunt, “We didn’t know if the ‘experiment’ would work because it was all about waiting for the future moms to react and think about getting a Volvo as a result of exposing them to the cars, the sales agents and most importantly, the safety features.”
Wait. Did you say “sales agents?” So, you put sales pressure on pregnant women who came in to audition for an ad? What level of agent “exposure” are we talking here? “Take a look around!” exposure, or “Keep on her till she starts having Braxton-Hicks contractions” exposure?
Yes, we’re in the business of connecting with people to sell things that will help solve their unique problems. (In this case, safe cars for safety-conscious, pregnant moms.) But this stunt seems like the definition of bait and switch.
The short videos of the pregnant women trying to memorize their lines and making color commentary on the Volvo XC40 features are actually charming and effective. And if that was the concept, it would be a smart and compelling campaign. But knowing the ulterior motive was to trick these women into test-driving and buying the cars seems to reinforce the stereotype that advertisers are no better than car salesmen (sorry, salespeople.)
That’s why I give this campaign/stunt a 1 for Offensive. The concept of featuring real pregnant women is smart and inclusive. Secretly taking advantage of them as a captive audience is dishonest and icky.
Of course, all that is subjective. The real issue with this campaign is a simple fact. When you look at the credits, there isn’t a single female creative (pregnant or otherwise) on the team.
And that alone should have given everyone involved in this project — both client and agency side — pause. A big ol’ pregnant one.