For years, Volvo was the redheaded stepchild of Ford Motor Company, and even before the recession hit in 2008, Ford had begun looking to find a new home for the Swedish marque. Though a foster parent was soon found in China, Ford's negotiations with Geely took a long time to resolve and undid much of Volvo's momentum. All that uncertainty took a toll on the company's 2010 sales: Volvo was one of the few automakers to end the year worse than it ended the recession-wracked 2009.
During the protracted talks between Ford and Geely, it seemed to many of us that Volvo stopped pushing (much like Chrysler slowed its product development during its bankruptcy/bailout fiasco). The company had a few interesting marketing campaigns -- notably, the "naughty" campaign for the 2011 Volvo S60 -- but not as many as we'd hoped. Today, the automaker seems particularly behind when it comes to social media, and recent news makes us wonder if the whole phenomenon of the internet -- especially social media -- remains a mystery to Volvo.
Over the weekend, Steve Rosenbaum, CEO of Magnify.net, posted an article to The Huffington Post about a letter he'd received from Volvo's team of trained attorneys. In a nutshell: Magnify hosts a Volvo fan site, VolvoCars.Magnify.net, which allows users to share videos, articles, and other info about Volvo. Prior to being purchased by Geely, Volvo had sent Rosenbaum a letter complaining that the site constituted an infringement of Volvo's trademark. Rosenbaum quite rightly responded that (a) just using the name "Volvo" doesn't make for a trademark infringement case, and (b) like the ever-popular Disney-Sucks.com, the Volvo fan site was protected by the free speech clause of the U.S. constitution.
Volvo never responded to Rosenbaum's letter, and the company remained quiet until about two weeks ago, when it sent a similar letter complaining about trademark infringement and the "home" link on the fan site, which bounces directly to Volvo's official website. Volvo asked that Rosenbaum change the home link to route to the front page of the fan site and that the website include a disclaimer on every page.
This is stupid not the best use of Volvo's time:
1. For starters, it takes a lot of time and energy to police the internet. Now that anyone can make a Tumblog or a Wordpress site or a Facebook page dedicated to a person, place, or thing, it seems silly to spend real man-hours watching for potential infractions and sending cease-and-desist letters. (Then again, we suppose lawyers have to earn their keep somehow.)
2. It is doubly stupid because here in America, we have well-established laws of free speech (which Volvo's new overlords might not understand).
3. It is triply stupid if you consider that this particular website is saying great things about Volvo. Why a brand would want to pester people who are doing it a favor is beyond us.
4. It is quadruply stupid because Volvo thinks that it can control the conversation about itself, when clearly Web 2.0 has made that impossible. (For reference, see the Honda Accord Crosstour.)
5. It is pentuply stupid because the fan site is not hosting stolen content. Unlike certain TV show fan sites that have been shut down -- like nearly every one related to Fox -- VolvoCars is curated from info that is freely available online.
6. It is sextuply stupid because we can't imagine any reasonable individual looking at the Magnify.net site and thinking that it's somehow affiliated with Volvo. It looks nothing like the Volvo site, and with its spare layout and standard-issue Impact header, it screams "fan forum". (Frankly, it could use a thorough makeover.)
That said, we do admit that having the "home" link as a link to Volvo seems a little weird. No one's going to assume that the Magnify site is related directly to Volvo, but still, "home" is perhaps not the link word we'd use. Final score: Social Media 6, Volvo 1.