Let’s Steal From ‘Epic Split’

In the second of our ‘Let’s Steal From’ series (The first one was about Follow The Frog), I want to look at what just might be the most famous B2B marketing video of all time (if you can think of a bigger one, let me know*).

It’s the Epic Split video starring Jean-Claude van-Damme for Volvo Trucks, the grand finale of their Live Test series on YouTube:


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this but I’m sure I’m responsible for at least 10% of its views.

Credit where credit is due

Epic Split was made by Forsman & Bodenfors, one of the most awarded agencies of last year. It was directed by Andreas Nilson. The full credits are here.

F&B appear to specialize in cold-weather marketing for brands like Volvo, Ikea, Helly Hansen and Systembolaget (Sweden’s state booze monopoly). So while you and I are out on the beach or frittering away our days in sidewalk cafés, these guys are inside making great marketing.

Because of that, last month you and I were in our dark offices while the F&B bastards are on the beach at Cannes, doing their own epic splits and gloating:


Did it work?

It worked.

Epic Split earned 100 million views. A HUNDRED MILLION VIEWS. FOR A B2B VIDEO. With almost no media budget behind it. (I’ve run out of WordPress’s emphasizers).

8 million have shared it.

Did it sell trucks? Volvo aren’t exactly going to publish their sales figures but they did share this nugget (In AdWeek): In a survey of 2,200 truck owners, half of those who saw the video said they were more likely to choose Volvo (a third had already contacted a dealer).

It also won lots and lots of awards (if you’re into that kind of thing)(we would be if we’d made this), including the Grand Prix for The Effectiveness Award at Cannes. And a Black Pencil from D&AD. And Best of Show at The One Show. Sheesh.

For a B2B video. (Did I mention that?)

If anyone EVER says it’s okay for B2B to aim low, show them this ad (then hit them on the head with, maybe a rolled up newspaper or stapler or something).

So what can we steal from this Epic Video?

We can steal a LOT as it turns out:

Say Less
Epic Split is a simple demonstration of a single, small feature on a truck: precise steering when driving in reverse.

A truck has thousands of features.

Traditional truck marketing says, “Tell everyone every feature every chance you get.”

This team went the opposite way and isolated a single, special feature — a feature that’s best demonstrated rather than just claimed.

Be confident
Confident companies don’t have to cram everything into every communication. They know you’ll be back. And this confidence is a great way to ensure that you do come back.

The shrill, hard-sell, blabbermouth brand chases people away, guaranteeing they never hear the story the brand is so intent on shoving down their throats.

Confidence is attractive. We wrote a whole slideshare about that called The Other C Word.

Cast smart
The Muscle from Brussels. That’s just…inspired.

They could have cast anyone to do this demo (any stunt man, anyway).

Instead, they chose one of Brussels’s biggest stars (okay, let’s face it, Brussels’s only star): Jean-Claude van Damme.

And he nails it.

Van Damme’s commercial career (I mean non-feature film commercial career) has shown that he’s way better parodying van Damme than he was actually being van Damme.

In this piece, he voices over himself, which is a way better choice than having him simply narrate to camera.

Jean-Claude has his eyes closed for the first nine seconds of the spot. So when he slowly opens them, you feel it.

Apparently, he really did this stunt, with only a little safety wire retouched out.

Man, imagine getting that wrong, even with a little safety wire.

Write simple
The script is excellent. It doesn’t try to compete with the stunt, it just establishes the character and tees up the split:

“I’ve had my ups and downs. My fair share of bumpy roads and heavy winds. That’s what made me what I am today.

Now I stand here before you. What you see is a body crafted to perfection. A pair of legs engineered to defy the laws of physics. And a mindset to master the most epic of splits.”

Then it shuts up.

Find perfect music
They could have chosen thousands of tracks for this.  Dragging Enya’s “Only Time” out of (deep) retirement was genius.

Wait for the sunset
How did they time that so perfectly?

Get a great director and cinematographer
So simple. We start just following Jean-Claude and the two trucks as they reverse off. We’re locked-on, dead center but we’re moving a bit slower than the trucks, so they pull away.

Then the split reaches its apex (nadir?) and the camera swoons right. Just in time to catch the sunset between the trucks (was that luck?).

Then the super: “This test was set up to demonstrate the stability of Volvo Dynamic Steering.”

And fade to black. The ONLY dumb thing about this piece is what the ridiculous lawyers made them do:

Shoot your lawyers
“It was carried out by professionals in a closed-off area.”

‘Duh.” doesn’t even begin to capture how dumb that is.

I would rather be sued and lose than blight such a piece with such nonsense.

(Why don’t brand teams ever say to their lawyers, “Thank you for your advice.” and then do the sensible thing?)

Go forth and steal
So go ahead: go and make something like Epic Split.

At least TRY to make something like Epic Split.

Think small (one feature).

Go big (celebrity, salt flats, insurance policy…).

Hire the best production talent you can find (Swedes would be good. But Brits too).

And defend the purity and simplicity of your idea against all doubters and haters and people who say “Can’t we also mention the suspension?” and, above all, lawyers.

And when you’ve done all that, please send me a link, so I can die a thousand creative-envy-deaths and then, getting over myself, kow-tow in your direction (I’m guessing West).

Do you love this as much as I do? Do you think it’s over-rated? Comments welcome.—–

Epic Split Parodies

A sure sign of a great ad is when it generates parodies. Epic Split has generated lots and lots of parodies. Google it.

Parodies of the Epic Split Jean Claude van Damme Volvo ad


* Apple’s 1984 doesn’t count: not B2B enough.

Here are the other ‘Let’s Steal From’ posts…

This is part of a regularly irregular series, posted, religiously, every once in a while:

Theres one on Seventeenth Century Explorers having a rough time building audience trust.

Here’s one on The NBA – It was just basketball, then it took over the world.

There’s one about the Airbnb City Guides, really smart content that the team doesn’t even have to make.

And one about stealing from The Greatest Infographic of All Time. Bar none. 150 years old. Literally epic, not just slangily epic.

And one that helps you rip off Follow The Frog, my favourite not-for-profit shaggy-dog story.

And one on stealing from great first lines of novels – so you can steal from people like George Orwell or Gabriel Garcia-Marquez.

And one about GE Aviation’s flat-out beautiful Paths of Flight video. Geek swoon.

Also the one about Icelandair pulling off a 7-hour content experience in the sky.

Any more?

Oh yeah, the one about Rand Fishkin and Moz’s Whiteboard Fridays, which looks SO simple and obvious and is hugely successful and deserves to be.

Do try and keep up.



Fantastic post! I just wanted to say, just because other marketers aren’t commenting doesn’t mean they didn’t love the post. They did. They really did.

They’re just shy.

So keep it up, buddy!

Do more of these!

The audience will follow.
It will, it will, it will.

Your inner optimist

People usually forget that B2B is still Person to Person – especially from a branding/narrative point of view.. As far as music choice, what did you think of the nike soccer ad? I was impressed – wrote about it here http://www.cmswire.com/digital-marketing/american-women-and-nike-a-soccer-narrative/

[…] home messages about what works in marketing.  There’s plenty of substance underneath the style: this spirited critique of a famous (or infamous) marketing video and this post challenging the notion of always playing to customer desires are proof that lively […]

In my experience the most difficult part is to make people to focus on one and only one feature and not in the hundreds the product has.

Ok then. Time to step up to the plate: I am one of those shy guys your alter ego mentioned in the first comment 😉

And I have this to say: I absolutely love your writing. I do. I learn a lot from you.

Whew. That was hard 😉

    Thanks Piotr! Much appreciated. I knew people like you were out there.

I could watch that video over and over again. Jaw-dropping. Like you said, think small then go big.

    I have watched it over and over again! Thanks, Sara.

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