By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. Here we go again. BMW is launching a new global advertising campaign focused on design and featuring the new BMW 4 Series Coupe with the theme, “Designed For Driving Pleasure” that, according to Andreas-Christoph Hofmann, head of BMW Brand Communications, will do great things. “Our products promise sheer driving pleasure,” he said in the press release. “But the anticipation of what can be experienced with a BMW, begins at first sight. The new campaign showcases the dynamics of design in a surprisingly different way.”
As you might imagine there are several things at work here, most of them not good.
First of all, BMW’s German overlords are always tinkering with the brand’s marketing and advertising, because they feel they know what’s best for the brand when it comes right down to it. This is a dubious supposition, at best, and it seems to be endemic to most of the German luxury-performance automakers.
Let me be more specific, it’s usually a giant bowl of Not Good when German marketers start messing with their auto brands. Why? As I’ve said many times before they only intermittently get it, with one of the most glaring – and disastrous – examples being when Mercedes-Benz marketers (and I use that term loosely) decided to make the blue-chip brand become more “approachable” in the market over a decade ago with a softened approach that only served to neuter the brand and rob it of its distinctiveness. And they damn near ran their brand image into the ground because of it. And despite glowing sales there’s evidence that they still don’t get it, as displayed by their bi-polar, Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde marketing strategy that convulses from one extreme to the other (German luxury standard-bearer or lowest-common-denominator “affordable” luxury? Which is it?), leaving an inevitable trail of brand image confusion in its wake.
But Mercedes-Benz marketers aren’t alone in their confusion. A few years ago BMW marketing mavens decided to replace “The Ultimate Driving Machine” – a theme that after 25+ years of consistent use in the U.S. had resonated with American luxury-performance consumers in a resoundingly positive way – with the new advertising theme line “Joy.” This new campaign originated in Germany and even though BMW marketers denied it, it was to become the new global ad theme line for BMW. They even plastered “Joy” all over the company’s M3 GT racing cars that year in the U.S. in a head-scratching display of monumental tone-deafness by the German auto company.
Needless to say, American BMW dealers were not amused in the least and considered “Joy” to be nonsensical and stupid, to put it mildly. The negative outcry was loud and immediate, and BMW marketers tried to save face with a torrent of platitudes designed to assuage their pissed-off dealers. Lo and behold, BMW marketers eventually backed away from “Joy” so that their American dealers could resume promoting BMW with one of the most successful advertising themes in automotive history.
How does this happen, you might ask? Well, not surprisingly, too many marketers operate in a confused state brought on by being overly concerned with internal white noise on the one hand (aka what would my bosses think?) and being pushed by “what’s happening” out there in the real world (being perceived as “unhip” among peers is anathema and a constant, overriding fear with all marketing types). This isn’t good, because it leads to monumental mistakes, with marketers losing track of time and space while taking their eyes off of the proverbial ball. In short they lose focus and things go really badly and usually in a big, unable-to-escape-from-the-collateral-damage way, too.
Is this confusion the sole domain of auto marketers? Oh no, of course not. Just ask the marketing geniuses behind Maker’s Mark whiskey who announced to the world last week that they were lowering their alcohol content from 45% (90 proof) to 42% because of an alleged supply problem. The whiskey maker was deservedly buried in an outcry of social media “WTF?s” and the company subsequently announced that they are reversing their decision immediately. WTF?, indeed.
Marketer confusion can also be directly attributed to how much time is spent listening to the dulcet tones of their own voices instead of leaning their heads out the window and seeing what the hell is going on “out there” for themselves.
A perfect example of late? “Find New Roads” for Chevrolet. What does it mean? What does it say about Chevrolet? Why doesn’t it imply what driving a Chevrolet will do for you instead of figuratively tossing you the keys and telling you to figure it out for yourself? It’s lazy and it’s beneath what that iconic brand should be about and a perfect example of marketers talking to themselves far too much. But I digress.
If confusion is one way in which marketers get themselves in trouble, delusional thinking is why car company marketers talk themselves into the need for ad campaigns that are supposed to work around the world in a seamless explosion of global kumbaya symmetry. It has reached epidemic proportions, in fact.
Why? Because auto manufacturers are confusing vehicle architecture symmetries – the use of fewer, common platforms for global manufacturing efficiency – with a delusional push for the commonality of brand image wrangling. They think a common message will save money. And, guess what? It rarely, if ever, works. Instead they spend more money unwinding campaigns that fall flat in regions around the world because they didn’t translate with the needed impact.
Now we have BMW marketers in Germany deciding that “Designed For Driving Pleasure” will be the new global ad theme for the brand, completely ignoring markets around the rest of the world, especially here in the USA where “The Ultimate Driving Machine” resonates with authority still. (I fully expect the powers that be at BMW to say that this new ad campaign will not replace “The Ultimate Driving Machine” in this country. But their credibility is more than a little suspect when it comes to such things.)
But trashing one of the all-time great automotive advertising themes is just one of the problems I have with this new campaign from BMW’s global brand wizards. The real travesty is that “Designed For Driving Pleasure” – no matter how expertly wrought by BMW’s creative types – simply says nothing about the brand.
Zero, in fact.
It doesn’t even come close to capturing the image that has been burnished into auto enthusiast brains for generations in this country. It’s matter-of-fact and utterly devoid of passion. And make no mistake - passion has defined BMW since the “Ultimate” image wrangling campaign began. Some of BMW’s products may have not lived up to that theme over the years, but the net-net of its impact in defining BMW has been astonishingly consistent and provocative.
The biggest problem that BMW’s marketers have unleashed with this new campaign is that you could throw the campaign theme line up against any car company and it would stick, which is truly the ultimate insult.
Designed For Driving Pleasure: Toyota.
Designed For Driving Pleasure: Buick.
Designed For Driving Pleasure: Hyundai.
You get the drift.
That BMW marketers have lost their way (again) is no big surprise, for all of the aforementioned reasons.
But that they would deign to mess with one of their most important markets with this amateurish bit of soon-to-be-advertising-trivia is almost incomprehensible.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
A print ad from the new BMW ad campaign.