Epic Split dropped like an advertising bomb when it was launched on YouTube in November 2013. Its combination of Jean-Claude Van Damme performing an audacious act of bravery and a tongue-in-cheek tone led to almost instant viral success.
The ad was part of a wider campaign created for Volvo Trucks by Forsman & Bodenfors that was centred on the theme of using stunts to show off various attributes of the vehicles. Before Epic Split, the company had released films showing a woman tightrope-walking between two moving trucks, a truck taking part in a bull run in Spain, and had even persuaded the company president, Claes Nilsson, to stand on a Volvo lorry hung 20 metres above Gothenburg harbour.
“Our communication strategy from the outset was to be bold and innovative,” explains Lars Terling, vice president, marketing communications at Volvo Trucks. “We knew that we could not outspend our competitors but we needed to outsmart them. We also wanted to use the new media landscape, focusing on digital and social media, since it is more effective than traditional advertising, both in terms of spread and cost. The result was a series of live test films, all of them spectacular in a way, but the focus is on our new and innovative trucks and technology being tested live.”
While the previous films in the series had been successful, Epic Split took attention on the campaign to a new level. The film was shot over five days at a closed-off airstrip in Ciudad Real, Spain. While Van Damme does perform the splits for real, he was secured with safety lines that are not visible in the finished film, and was standing on platforms built onto the trucks’ side mirrors. “The whole stunt was performed in just one take without any breaks,” says copywriter Björn Engström. “Prior to filming the final take, the production team rehearsed the stunt for three days. The final version had to be completed within just 15 minutes, between 8.05 and 8.20am, when the sunlight was just right.”