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.
In 2002, BMW produced a series of eight short films (averaging about ten minutes each) exclusively for web users. This web-only short film series was a unique marketing experiment by BMW. All eight films featured popular filmmakers from across the globe and highlighted the performance aspects of various BMW automobiles. More than 11 million viewers tuned in to watch these films and over 2 million registered at BMW website and vast majority of users, registered to the site, sent film links to their friends and family. In next four years, these videos generated over 100 million views!
What is even more remarkable is that BMW launched and successfully executed this campaign despite the fact that there wasn’t a mass market content streaming platform such as YouTube back then.
After the series began, BMW saw their 2001 sales numbers go up 12% from the previous year. The films proved to be so popular that BMW ended up producing a free DVD for the customers who visited certain BMW dealerships. This small marketing campaign significantly improved dealer traffic.
BMW Films – Campaign Execution
BMW films were one of the early viral marketing attempts. These films were not some advertising videos produced by BMW. They were passive in terms of brand advertising. For example, you can replace the BMW car in any of the films by another brand, but core story still made sense. These films made a strong emotional connection with the viewers regardless of their affinity to BMW brand. Besides, these films very cleverly have a central character called The Driver who “helped people through difficult circumstances using deft driving skills-in a prominent.” The whole idea was to project the “Ultimate Driving Machine” image to support the release of new BMW vehicles.
While this viral marketing effort was unproven and untested at the time of conception, there were few things BMW knew about its customers that spurred them to create this campaign. For example, BMW discovered that approximately 85% of their customers researched the vehicles online before purchasing them. According to an article by Tom Hespos, the films were the basis for a hugely successful viral campaign, almost all of the people who downloaded the movies recommended them to other people.
Focus on Building Brand Equity
The BMW Films project was one of those moments when an advertising campaign was so powerful that it didn’t need an established platform to work. BMW successfully promoted its brand and the particular Z4 product that was at the heart of the promotion. People took the underlying message to heart and walked away with a very positive deep brand experience.
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