Swedish humour or context-blind marketing?

Is it unkind to make fun of a gift?

Well, yes.

But I’m going to do it anyway. It was a corporate ‘gift’ so I’m fairly sure I paid for it somewhere.

So, I bought a new car, something I haven’t done in many years. The experience was fairly painless. I picked a car. Found a UK dealer 190 miles away with one in stock in the colour and trim I wanted and bought it by email without ever visiting the dealer or seeing the car. Yesterday a driver delivered my car to my door. He also bought flowers for my wife and an additional gift.

Everyone was very nice to me. Everything happened on time. I’m happy with the car.

So, of course, that’s not what I’m posting about. Who wants to hear a happy story of uneventful efficiency?. I’m writing about the gift.

It was a bottle. A plastic bottle. A plastic bottle with a piece of paper folded inside it.

I assumed that this was some kind of message in a bottle theme and that the paper would thank me for choosing their car.

Nope. The paper wasn’t a message, it was a set of instructions on how to use the bottle. That made me laugh as it’s entirely consistent with the safety through technology image of the brand.

When I read the instructions I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or marvel at how far away from reality it is possible for intelligent people to get.

The instructions came in six languages. It was a small piece of paper so that meant the font size was eye-waveringly small but at least you didn’t need to know where the bottle was going when you put the paper inside it.

The first line read:

‘Great choice,’

which struck me as odd as I hadn’t chosen anything.

The next line told me that I’d been given not a bottle but ‘Drinkware’ and offered me

‘tips to enhance your enjoyment of your new drinkware’

I was told to wash and dry the bottle, sorry, drinkware before using it. well duh!

I was warned not to overfill it because

‘liquid may escape through the drinking hole when fastening the lid’.

Again, duh! Although after Drinkware I found drinking hole a little disappointing. Why not liquid extraction point?

I was advised to make sure the lid was fastened before drinking. Trice duh! Was this written by lawyers anxious about liability?

Then I was told all the things I couldn’t do with the Drinkware:

  • Put it in a microwave
  • Clean it in a dishwasher
  • Put hot beverages in it.
  • Put carbonated beverages in it

So, the gift was a plastic water bottle that has to be hand-washed after every use and which came with a page of instructions/warnings/disclaimers.

Just what the world needs. Another plastic bottle. OK, so the world probably didn’t need a new car either, even if I did assuage my conscience by buying a hybrid, but adding a hard to use, corporate branded, probably best to recycle soon plastic bottle didn’t strike me as a great idea.

So what do you think? Was this Swedish humour, a well-meant but not thought through courtesy or a piece of marketing that has lost sight of reality.

4 thoughts on “Swedish humour or context-blind marketing?

  1. What do I think? Honestly? I think someone in Volvo’s promotions department has a few pages stuck together, and is getting paid waaaaay too much money.

    Rose (still shaking her head and wondering “Why? Just…why?”)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, you might be right but I’m still hoping for humour.

      Still, I get the head shake. I really do. It’s a something I find myself doing a lot these days.


  2. I‘d take it as humor — as a pun on (1) IKEA’s (another iconic Swedish company‘s) assembling „instructions“, which often are anything but that, and (2) the fact that for many, especially — not just cliché has it — American products you in fact ARE given exactly this sort of nonsensical, overbearing, pompously-worded instructions as a result of technicians losing their grip on ordinary, everyday language and, oh yes, *definitely* the lawyers pitching in, knowing that people will sue (and obtain damages!!) for the stupidest reasons. (The story of the woman who successfully sued MacDonalds for burning herself with the coffee she‘d stuck between her legs because she hadn‘t been warned it might be hot is true, after all.)

    I can totally see both the in-house lawyers and the Volvo marketing department getting a kick out of that and decide to make fun of it. And don’t forget that Volvo used to be owned by Ford for a while — I don‘t think they still are, but I‘d have to check — so they were probably at the receiving end of the „we mean it and we‘re deadly serious about it, and don’t you as our subsidiary dare not to play along“ part of this attitude for longer than they ever cared. I absolutely wouldn‘t be surprised if this were their way of getting their own back — although in a manner that‘s easier for their fellow Swedes to grasp than for someone from another country.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I like your view on this. Ford bought Volvo in 1999 and sold them to the Chinese in 2010 but they’re still headquartered in Sweden and from what I’ve seen, they’ve managed to hold on to their culture.

      I worked for a large consultancy that we bought by a much larger American high tech company. Rumour had it that they had more lawyers than engineers. The New York lawyers drove us crazy. They really seemed to struggle with the idea that US law didn’t apply in Europe and they definitely couldn’t understand that Switzerland wasn’t in the EU. I can imagine what Volvo went through. Just after the Americans bought us, I was running a response to a very large RFP for a Swiss client I knew well. I was told that I had to have a lawyer on my team and that he would review all text. His contribution? He wanted me to change every ‘we will’ statement to a ‘we may’ statement. We didn’t do it but the effort required not to do it was my first indication that I’d have to move somewhere else.

      I love the coffee story. Now I understand why McDonald’s went to such lengths to explain that the sticks of hot apple pie they used to sell would actually be hot when you bit into them.

      Anyway, I rather like the idea of the guys in Gothenburg quietly debunking things.


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