This extended car ad for Volvo is an example of how cultural baggage can lead you to interpret advertising in a very different way to its creator's intention.
Vintersaga (Winter's story) is a four-minute, narrative-less short film by Gustav Johansson through ad agency Forsman & Bodenfors that portrays the harsh landscape as sublimely beautiful but run through with melancholy. Anyone who's watched the popular Scandinavian crime dramas of the last five years that kicked off with Wallander and The Killing – whose stark influence also permeats the current ITV show Broadchurch and Sky Atlantic's forthcoming Fortitude – may see something darker too.
Vintersaga was created by Gustav to represent sadness and melancholia – 'vermod' in Swedish. The film represents this in a monochrome half-light of landscapes broken between areas of deep texture and bleak nothingness. Only the car – shot using the traditional language of car ads – is shown as standing against this, offering protection from the elements and security through the winter. Which is as you'd expect from an ad for Volvo.
Through British eyes, we associate those landscapes and weather conditions with those crime dramas and – without context – interpret scenes such as an open car door leading the sea, a man standing alone on the beach and even a man burning sheets of what could be interpreted as paper as sinister. Certain scenes – such as a child standing at the top of the cliffs – also have coincidental similarities to key scenes in Broadchurch, which it seems I wasn't the only one to binge watch at Christmas before the second series started.
This isn't a criticism of Vintersaga. It's an ad aimed at a Swedish audience that will likely get limited viewings by the general public outside Sweden. But it's a good reminder that if we ask viewers to create their own a narrative from the visuals we put in front of them, we hand over control of what that story tells to them.