News & Views

Insight & Strategy / Volvo LifePaint

by Contagious Team

To promote how its IntelliSafe system protects both cyclists and pedestrians, Volvo gave out special cans of spray paint in London bike shops. Applying the spray, called LifePaint, on bikes, clothing or prams makes them glow luminously when they’re in the path of a car’s headlights. 

The car manufacturer, with Grey London and startup Albedo100, produced 2,000 cans of LifePaint that were distributed for free over a single weekend in March. Volvo raised awareness of the product with a YouTube film, which has been watched more than 4.7 million times. Grey reported that it ran out of cans in 72 hours. The agency added that the campaign resulted in 130 million Twitter impressions over 20 days and 34,000 people registered their details on the campaign site. The campaign was covered by global outlets including, WiredTIME, Buzzfeed and USA Today

We interviewed Hollie Newton, creative director at Grey London, to find out the story behind the UK campaign and how Volvo is planning to roll out LifePaint in other markets.


This is an excerpt of a piece published on the Contagious I/O research platform. Grey London's Nils Leonard will discuss the Volvo LifePaint campaign at Most Contagious 2015, December 9 in London. Tickets available at

Contagious: How did you come up with the idea for LifePaint?

Hollie Newton: Like a lot of these projects that suddenly become something brilliant, it wasn’t at all what it started off as. Volvo is a really small car brand and in many ways actually that’s great as they can be more nimble. We thought one of the best things we could do is look at Volvo as a boutique brand, as a heritage brand: don’t worry about being small, make that your asset. 

The IntelliSafe system really excited us actually because Volvo is so known for safety but a very old-fashioned safety. But Volvo is not at all old-fashioned. Their testing facilities are mind-blowing, they are more like space mission control. They have got intuitive technology; that shit is so far from airbags. They are really working towards cars that cannot crash so that no one can be hurt or killed in Volvo.

We looked at the IntelliSafe for the new XC90, which is their most advanced. Essentially it scans the road using sensors, cameras and night vision. It will even stop the car at a certain speed if a pedestrian is in the way. We started to ask, ‘How do you talk about that in a contemporary way and in a way that’s really interesting and human? And do something without actually showing the car but really ignites the imagination of Volvo as a whole and the car launch coming up?’ 

We were looking at all sorts of things that were too stunty, like blindfold tests. They felt a bit naff. And then this fabulous Danish team that I work with a lot [Jonas Roth and Rasmus Smith Bech] found this article about the Finnish Reindeer Herders Association and how they were doing preliminary tests on a reflective paint to put on the antlers of reindeer. Absolutely mental. There are something like 4,000 serious crashes a year that wipe out people and the reindeer because there is no light and you are going at 90 miles an hour and essentially you hit a wall of reindeer.

To begin with, because we are foolish creators. We thought ‘Brilliant we will sponsor that and we’ll bring it Sweden. We will save animals and we will save lives. Fantastic!’ We phoned the reindeer association and we got in touch with this startup Albedo100 [that makes the paint]. 

A few days later, we thought, ‘Hang on, what are we doing? Shouldn’t we paint cyclists? Actually, take it off the plains of Finland and onto a London road and suddenly it is hugely helpful.’ We worked on a case study video with Albedo100. We worked on the bottle design and how we might get it out. We experimented with a few different paints. 

It took a long time because we were going to roll it out globally and then some of the timings changed. It was 18-19 months’ work and it nearly died about 20 times. But we just kept on going.

Volvo wondered if we needed to launch the car first. In the end we decided we would have one market to back it and do it as a test case. Volvo in the UK were absolutely desperate to do it and they became our sponsors. We had very little budget, I almost don’t want to admit how little budget we had. We launched it in the UK with one batch in those first six shops. We made a little film to launch it and it just went mad. We didn’t expect how popular it would be.

What were you trying to achieve with the campaign?

We really wanted people to talk about Volvo in more of a contemporary way. Because they are so forward-thinking and so modern. Their technology is so astonishing and their approach to everything is also extraordinary: it is very much humans first, cars second. When you look at everything they are trying to do behind the scenes, it really takes everyone on the road into account. I also think we didn’t really want to hit people over the head with the XC90. We were talking to people who weren’t car nuts. It was more to reframe the thinking of people who might not be looking for a car or would not consider Volvo to start off with. That’s a very long process for a massive brand.

What is the next step for LifePaint?

We are just setting up a supply chain. We have lots of markets working on rolling this out: the US, Germany, South Africa. It’s mad we’re an advertising agency, making products. We are translating labels, making them here and getting all the products out. Albedo100 is such a small company and so doing it is taking longer than you would like because we have to look at scaling up production in their factory. The next phase will be Volvo giving it away for free again and then we will be working on how we can get it out as a permanent product. In the UK we have got really great national suppliers asking to stock it. So then suddenly you are going through a different side of product development, legal and retail. The ambition would be that we didn’t sell it for more than cost price because it is meant to be something good to help people.

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