Just like Avril Simmons, I have watched and re-watched the recent Volvo Trucks commercial featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme, and I agree, it is one of the best commercials I have seen in a long time.
The question that has been bugging me a bit, is, why?
Let me explain. For me, this commercial is all about Jean-Claude.
I have to admit that before watching this commercial, I found Van Damme to be a bit of a dud. I felt like he might be a tad cooler than Steven Seagal, but not by much. A has-been B-list (if that) action star.
But this super-minimalistic and understated commercial (by Swedish agency Forsman & Bodenfors), forces me to reconsider my previous take on Jean-Claude. He gets into my head without any action moves, explosions or action music in the background.
He just stands there and is suddenly cooler and more powerful than in any of the movies he featured in. It is like Jean-Claude gives people like me the middle-finger in this commercial. He just stands there without movement or saying anything (the voice over is great), and it is if he is saying "You thought I was a dud? You thought I was a loser? What do you think of this!?"
It is a bit like the Chuck Norris jokes but without the irony, and it still works.
The beauty of this, for Volvo Trucks, is that while their trucks plays a very secondary role in the commercial, they and their commercial, make us re-evaluate Jean-Claude, and find him cool. Because the association with Volvo is so understated it makes us like them even more.
They make us think that they did this to Jean-Claude and our perception of him, therefore they must be geniuses and their trucks awesome.
The irony with this commercial is that it would not have worked with say, Matt Damon, Daniel Craig or Uma Thurman. It would not work with a mainstream A-list star. It had to be someone who would challenge our perceptions and prejudices.
I like it so much better than the previous Volvo Trucks commercial "The Ballerina Stunt" which might have been a greater achievement but is less understated and minimalistic.