Does anyone remember Linsanity? The media melee last spring engulfed NBA fans in NYC and beyond when an unknown player and Harvard grad of Taiwanese parents rocketed to stardom with the New York Knicks. The term "Linsanity" came to describe the Jeremy Lin phenomenon. Brands, sensing an opportunity to tap into the China market via the NBA's new Asian sensation, rushed to cash in on Lin. One of those brands was Volvo.
Volvo? Yes, Volvo. Now, Lin's first Volvo commercial for the China market has finally been released. While Volvo is trying to appeal to well-heeled Chinese consumers about their aspirations versus the status quo, it's less than Linspiring.
The Lin Volvo ad — currently only available in cell-phone pirated form — shows the star driving a red Volvo SUV through a crowd after an event. Lin halts, watches other drivers turn right, and then veers left. He says, “I'm not here to live up to anyone else's expectations; I'm here to live up to mine. I'm Jeremy Lin." The final tagline, in Chinese, "I am Jeremy Lin. The one that I want to outdo is myself."
While in Taiwan at a Volvo event, Lin displayed his now characteristic humility, telling the The China Post, “I had to do it so many times, I don't know, maybe he (the director) doesn't like my smile or something."
It's OK, Jeremy, Volvo is finding it difficult to smile too. Nursing a small foothold in China, Volvo is well behind the major luxury players BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Also, as Volvo is not considered a luxury brand, it also faces competition with Buick, a well regarded brand with a long history in the market. Given it's recent ownership changes, many consumers are probably not aware the brand has been owned by China's Zhejiang Geely Motors since 2010.
Volvo has targeted selling 200,000 cars a year in China by 2015 in part by opening a China factory in 2013, but reported flagging recent results, with July year over year sales down 28 percent.
Volvo's hiring of Lin as its China brand ambassador is likely aimed more at the mainland's booming auto market more than Taiwan. With this in mind, the Lin ad suggests a few things.
Lin's bright red car may have some Chinese wondering if he just got married (Chinese wedding dresses are red; white's reserved for funerals) but it's clear the color is meant to contrast the black sedans — from Benz, BMW and Audi — that have become ubiquitous on China's roads. Lin's left turn is a far more obvious statement.
The ad is, to borrow Volvo's old tagline, "boxy but safe," a low risk low reward endeavor that's hard to imagine turning many heads.
Of course, it's important to keep in mind that Lin is no Kobe Bryant or Yao Ming. Should Linsanity's new season in Houston turns into a disaster, Volvo will be left Lingering. It's a risk for the automaker, and, in that sense, the ad's cautious message really is more about the Volvo than about Lin, who's already set for life thanks to a huge offseason deal partly driven by expectations of the star's marketability in China.
A true tale of going its own way comes from another (once) Swedish automaker. A joint venture between China's National Modern Energy Holdings and Japan's Sun Investment, National Electric Vehicle Sweden, has announced that it would be launching a new electric vehicle based on the Saab 9-3 in China by 2014. The hitch: While the model will be under the Saab name, it will not bear the Saab logo after the JV did not secure the logo rights. Saad.