An aerosol can as lifesaver


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 2 2015)

An invisible spray-on varnish that shines as soon as it captures the light – it sounds like a fun gimmick, but the latter is gaining importance as a security measure. The reflective coating was first introduced to the public as “LifePaint” and promoted by the Volvo brand’s advertising appeal. But the inventor is someone else entirely.

Earlier this spring, automobile manufacturer Volvo released a PR video, showing the dark side of riding a bike on the chaotic streets of the British capital from the riders’ perspective. They are cut off, have to brake suddenly, and tailgated. The viewer also learns that some 19,000 bike riders are involved in accidents in London every year. Cut. The next scene is shown to the sound of rhythmic beats, and the solution Volvo has come up with is presented: spray-paint that makes rider and bike shine bright every time he or she is illuminated by a headlight.

The first 20,000 aerosol cans of “LifePaint” were gone in the blink of an eye when offered for free at six selected bike stores. The campaign was thought up by the agency Grey London. But neither they nor Volvo actually invented “LifePaint”. Albedo 100 has actually been distributing the particle mix for some time now. The British company offers four similar spray-paints, including ones that can be applied to metal permanently and will not flake off after ten days without leaving a trace, which is what “LifePaint” does.

 That other companies implement marketing campaigns using the Albedo 100 product is nothing new. In 2014, the reindeer breeders association in Lapland had the media effective idea to spray-paint the antlers of “Santa’s sledge-pullers” to prevent them from dying in an accident on snowy roads. 

There are no exact results from the reindeer rescue mission and also in the case of bicycles it is still not clear whether reflective clothing, or in this case spray-paint, will really save lives, which is why the Volvo campaign was criticised by some. Bicycle activist Mikael Colville-Andersen from the Copenhagen Cycle Chic Blog started an online petition, calling for the carmaker to first coat its own vehicles with the luminescent paint before indirectly making cyclists responsible for their own endangerment on the road. So far, the target of 1,500 signatories has not been reached. Other bike lobbyists feel the eerie white glowing bicycles look too much like so-called “ghost bikes”, white bikes that are placed at accident sites to remind passers-by of what happened. They are asking that investments be made in more promising preventive measures. 

Volvo can in no way deny their heightened desire for safety. In 1940, the company invented the safety cage and one decade later, the three-point seat belt. Still, the “LifePaint” campaign was no declaration of love to bike riders, but served a different marketing purpose: the new Volvo XC90. A true street cruiser, the Chinese-owned Swedish brand equipped it with the Intelli-Safe system, which automatically recognises cyclists and pedestrians and breaks in anticipation. The system is part of Volvo’s vision to make car accidents nearly impossible through technical innovation by 2020. 

PR stunt or not, the paint’s popularity is an indication that Volvo may have hit a nerve. The next batch of aerosol cans has been ordered and will, at least this time again, be distributed for free. Visibility can never hurt, as long as no one gets blinded by the light or blinds others.

Picture credits © Volvo Car UK Limited

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