Tuesday, February 16, 2010

BMW = Joy

My friends, 

That beloved Bavarian brand is no longer the "Ultimate Driving Machine" in its advertising.  It's okay - I couldn't believe it either until it was confirmed for me by an article by Alex Kellogg in the February 13 edition of the Wall Street Journal.  This new campaign launched this past weekend in the US attempts to make a more emotional connection with the (hopefully) future BMW owner using "Joy" as the universal and unifying emotion.

If you recall, BMW advertising (TV, print or otherwise) never showed anything but the car usually in motion hugging tight curves, how it conquers snow and the like.  You never even saw the driver because that distracted from the form and functionality of the vehicle.  Now, BMW is embracing the human aspect of car ownership and why it is that one might choose to buy BMW over another brand beyond form and function.  It's multi textural, it's contextual, it's intellectual, it's sensual, emotional...

Why?  it's about bringing a little more humanity, warmth and personality to the brand and the customer experience.  In these days of "value for money" and watching how we spend as opposed to the heyday of the last decade, it's become more critical for luxury brand BMW to demonstrate that the dollar value of the intangible "Joy" delivered is exponentially greater than the actual sales price of the car itself.  Even the BMW site has joined the fun.  When you take a stroll there, you see some of the new commercials and you learn that "Joy" is the following: timeless, freedom, innovation, aesthetic and moving.  In other words, it's multiple choice and all of the answers are right.  Buying a BMW is "worth" it.

In one of the print ads, it reflects the safety concerns of a new mother.  In one of the commercials, you see an man clearly enjoying the ride in his convertible.  In yet another commercial, "Joy" is defined as being part of the greater BMW community.  The point is that "Joy" is manifested in many ways.  Why don't I just show you, you ask?  Glad to...  see below!

Here, "Joy" is defined as whatever personal attribute the driver thinks most important -- thereby justifying the very large loan, check, wad of cash, etc., it takes to get into one of those.  Bluntly put: it's a way to relieve the guilt of buying the car when maybe you could go one step down brandwise, take the bus or whatever the alternative is to spending over $40K for a 3 Series and way more than that the further up you go in the BMW food tree.  Before anyone suggests I might be a touch judgmental, I drank the BMW flavored beverage a few years ago and spent many hours justifying what was a ridiculous amount of money for one car.  But I don't regret it.  

Why?  It.  Is.  The.  Ultimate.  Driving.  Machine.  The BMW engineers spend so much time on all of the little details which is why BMW is BMW.  Even if I only go to the supermarket and not to the speedway, my day to day experience is excellent because of those details.  I don't feel "Joy" so much as I say "Awesome!"  

And so, I have a few issues with this new campaign.  It seems a bit sacrilegious.  I do get the warm, fun vibe and I do like that the campaign shows every type of driver but I don't think this is a match...  this isn't the "I've got a feeling!" Toyota campaign of the 1980s.  Stuffy is stuffy (yuck!) but this isn't quite right either.  Is a guy jumping off the roof of a house into a convertible going to give the design team the credit they deserve?  Will another woman buy a BMW because other owners sound like fun people especially after a few drinks?  I'm not certain. 

Also, I can't help but recall our Sales and Marketing chats (here and here).  How much have the salespeople in the dealerships been immersed in the "Joy" marketing generally?  What tools have they been given to communicate how the engineering details mean "Joy" to the driver?  Have they been instructed to change how they sell to the customer and how they are compensated if they sell "Joy" during the process?  Has the sales process changed from open to close?  Do salespeople believe in the message - so much so that they are already using it?  Were they privy to the campaign message in development so they could give feedback?  Did anyone observe customers during the sales process to see what resonated most with them to translate into "Joy"?  I am certain you can think of a bunch of other (and better) questions.

Of course, these are early days yet and I'm sure the brand marketing team will find ways to incorporate the timeless, freedom, innovation, aesthetic and moving elements that we discussed above.  I'm very curious to see how BMW will expand this campaign beyond traditional media and their site especially since this is such a huge departure from how they sold the brand previously. 

What's your take on this?  These ads have been on pretty heavily during the Olympic coverage so I'm sure you've seen them at least once.  Send me a note and let me know your thoughts!


Parissa Behnia

p.s.  If you've an extra few minutes, here's the extended version of what you saw above.  It's funny. :).


  1. Parissa,
    Great article. I also wonder what's behind the new marketing campaign. In theory they'd like to increase sales, and that they will do. I love BMWs and I'm not going to not drive one because of their new cheesy advertisements. I doubt that others would stop driving them because of the new ads, either, so they have nowhere to go but up. However, I'm not sure how much they'll go up. You stated the only good reason I can think of why one might not get a BMW: the cost. While bringing "joy" into people's lives might convince some people, the real reasons for driving one is that it is the ultimate driving machine. Joy, by itself, cannot (at least for me) account for the sticker price.

    There is, however, another market they can touch with their Joy compaign. The Certified Pre-owned program can bring even more of a smile to one's face because of the lowered cost of the cars it sells. Like you, I cannot justify paying sticker price for a BMW, thus every BMW I have bought has been at a fraction of the price, and always less than half the initial cost of the machine.

    Ultimately all the engineering time that goes into making the BMW, the control it gives me over the road, the wow and awesome factors, and the fact that I spend 10% of my awake life in my car are enough for me to justify dishing out a little more dough than the second best. Throw in the quality parts - my used M3 has never had a headlight go out and only one tail light, as opposed to my wife's brand new Xterra whose light failures I cannot count using my fingers alone - and it's a no brainer for me.

    At the end, I think BMW might have better luck with their Joy campaign if they targeted the CPO market instead, where the thought of bringing joy to the driver might tip the balance in their favor, because taking the "Ultimate Driving Machine" slogan out is an injustice to what they really stand for.


  2. Silly move for BMW. Americans have been thorougly conditioned by 50 years of German automotive advertising. BMW buyers love technology and draw their energy from cool things and cool ideas, not from people or emotions. Nobody buys a German automobile for its human touch feeling of "joy" - jeez, what's next, "compassion"? Folks who buy expensive German cars are a select group, and do so for the speed, efficiency and engineering - period. Long before BMW even had the "Ultimate Driving Machine" campaign there was another one that truly captured the BMW spirit and that was on American TV in the early 1970's. It showed a stereotyped German family dressed in leiderhosen all crammed into a VW Beetle and burbling sedately down the German autobahn. All of a sudden, the driver (the father) looks in his rear view mirror and gets a look of stark terror on his face. He yells out "Bey Em Vey" and makes a wild maneuver swerving to the far right of the autobahn while a set of headlights off in the distance behind him turns into a gorgeous new BMW zooming by that quickly disappears into the distance once again. The scene then fades out and the voiceover in English says "In Germany, they say "Bey Em Vey. And get out of the way." Then they would just show you the BMW logo.
    Now THAT is how you sell a BMW. When that commercial ran in the U.S., BMW's flew out of the showrooms.
    Having said all that, I've never owned one myself, but I know very well the people that do.

  3. Hey man, just found this. I have written a similar article http://brandhalo.wordpress.com/2010/04/29/bmws-new-brand/ on the subject. I share your views. It's a balls up! I just googled to see who else shares the sentiment. Nice one.