The Science Behind Jean-Claude Van Damme & Volvo’s Viral Video


Believe it or not, Jean-Claude Van Damme has still got it and Volvo capitalized on it by making the so called ‘marketing video of the year’. The fact that the video has already accumulated over a 30 million views in 5 days proves that there is a whole world of precision and smarts in their marketing campaign. Here is a list of some of those branded techniques and messages you may have missed.


While Volvo is not an exciting car company by any means; those buying their cars typically are not looking for excitement but rather quality and safety. Despite most car companies trying to label themselves in new ways to break into new customer segments, Volvo decided to re-enforce what it does best by appealing to their core audience with someone they may actually remember and for reasons they may have previously enjoyed their Volvo cars for which is stability. The branding is very solid, and the actor choice is simply genius.

Despite being a martial arts icon from the 80’s/90’s and notorious for his action movies, Van Damme has been long gone from the movie scene and hasn’t been heard of for some time. This leads us to think that the reason Volvo brought him back was because he would appeal to the older Gen Y individuals who are now entering their 30’s and may start to become more conscious about family, safety, and stability which are all values that Volvo stands for. This icon was one not only relatable but rather interesting as many who grew up with his movies will be eager to see him again even if in a short Youtube video.

So why did this video go viral?

Outside of the amazing branding message that Volvo buried deep in a commercial that didn’t even showcase or mention their cars, there was an even greater trademarked move, the famous Van-Damme split, which went MIA for a decade. NO one expected to see a 50+ year old guy execute splits on top of two 18 wheelers in reverse. The unexpected simply sells and promotes social sharing which is exactly what Volvo hoped would happen in order to reach this new demographic it had yet to get on the radar of. What can you learn from their move and apply to your own business?

1) The unexpected gets shared and it gets shared a lot: We see it over a dozen times a month but some notable ones were the recent unexpected behaviors of Miley Cyrus and the famous Shift It guy, both racked up significant views in short amounts of times by simply stepping out of their comfort zones and into your expectation.  This is no different than the recent Lamborghini pic that went viral on FB because a bear was sitting in the passenger seat. While you would think Lamborghinis are unique and go viral as-is, they are pretty common online, but a bear isn’t.  These components separately would have no impact but together, it is highly unexpected and therefore the emotional reaction it gets out of people defines why they share it.

2) The Van-Damme commercial zoomed out unveiling the extraordinary action that you didn’t expect. What you thought would be a normal commercial went from ordinary to extraordinary in less than 4 seconds. This technique is very powerful in media. Expose a normal angle before unveiling the main course. Volvo in this case took it even one step further by allowing the action that followed to be even more extraordinary. In other words, follow a 3-step process to make your audience love you. Tease, impress, and wow are the 3 steps that evoke an enormous emotional response.

3) Relate to your intended audience on a deeper level, even if your main message will reach millions. While you can have a successful ad campaign that gets millions of views, it cannot be successful without driving the message home for those you want listening. In this particular case Volvo sold their brand to their core client without even selling it. Remember no one likes to be sold to, but everyone loves to buy.