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BMW Films: The Ultimate Marketing Scheme

BMW Films: The Ultimate Marketing Scheme Tom Hespos

Automotive companies constantly do battle to capture an audience of eager players at the right moment in the purchasing funnel who are interested in driving off a lot with a new vehicle. We are all familiar with the commoditized “zero money down, zero percent APR financing” tactics that many traditional auto ads espouse; most every ad touts features and benefits that would sound alike in a blind taste test of vehicles. What then can be the differentiator across brands? Can it be possible for a marketing campaign to appeal to the more intangible and emotive side of a consumer and use non-traditional advertising to do it well?


Such was the case in 2001, when the “Ultimate Driving Machine” became the ultimate interactive marketing campaign through BMW Films. Traditionally, BMW had always supported the release of a new vehicle with an advertising campaign designed to reinforce the brand promise of delivering the world’s most exciting luxury cars. But in 2000, BMW had a window of opportunity when it could do something purely for the sake of branding—sans release of a new vehicle—to deliver a unique message in an increasingly crowded luxury/performance car market. BMW knew that the average work-hard, play-hard customer was 46 years old, with a median income of about $150,000. Two-thirds were male, married, and had no children. As BMW sliced and diced its market further, an interesting statistic surfaced: Roughly 85% of BMW purchasers used the Internet before purchasing a BMW.


Led by Jim McDowell, VP of marketing for BMW North America, BMW embarked on a journey to develop a non-traditional concept to show consumers what makes a BMW a BMW. Combining the ideas of producing a series of short films and using the Internet in an advertising campaign, short films for the Internet was born with BMW Films. BMW assembled a cast of A-list directors and actors, and developed scripts within the basic framework of having a central character that helped people through difficult circumstances using deft driving skills—in a BMW. The car became the star. Each director who chose a script was then given complete creative control over content and direction, something they would be hard-pressed to find in Hollywood, and something that BMW ordinarily wouldn’t allow if filming a traditional advertisement.


Supported with TV spots that mimicked movie trailers, print and online advertising, the promotional campaign was designed explicitly to drive consumers to the BMW Films Web site for an entertainment experience found nowhere else. After a required registration step, viewers could watch streaming versions of the films or download the BMW Film Player, which served as a branded wrapper around the films, and included vivid descriptions of the vehicles used in each film, along with featurette subplots.


Never before (or since) had an automotive company taken such a strong stance to drive consumers to the Web, and the results are compelling. More than 10 million films have been viewed from BMWFilms.com. Nearly 2 million people registered on the site, with 60% of those registrants opting to receive more information via e-mail. An astonishing 94% of registrants recommended films to others, seeding the viral campaign, and more than 40,000 people voluntarily responded to a survey. Visiting the site now, one is able to enter a contest to win the M5 used in “The Star,” the short film that was directed by Guy Ritchie starring Madonna.


As Arthur Chan of TeamOne Advertising says, “I think it’s great for the entire interactive industry … it gets people excited about doing great things online because the space is so unlimited creatively … and more auto marketers are now seeing tangible evidence of how effective online can be.”


With the recent announcement that BMW will make three more films, we all sit in eager anticipation for the next chapter of this truly effective integrated marketing campaign with measurable results.

Tom Hespos is President of New York agency Underscore Marketing. He is a frequent contributor to industry trade publications and has been writing a regular column about online marketing and advertising since March of 1998. His clients include Wyeth...

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