There was once a time when BMW marketing was razor-sharp and industry-defining, and it was the envy of the automotive competition. Highly skilled advertising experts crafted iconic slogans that made us desire the “Ultimate Driving Machine” and promised us “Sheer Driving Pleasure.” The German version of the latter set of words, “Freude am Fahren,” preceded Audi’s “Vorsprung durch Technik,” and established BMW as the choice of vehicle for sporty drivers and those wishing to be seen as such. The brand stood for a dynamic premium experience and was respected by old and young consumers alike. Then something changed, and now nobody really knows or understands what the carmaker is trying to tell its old and new customers. All we do know is that many of them feel alienated by the firm’s latest advertising efforts.
Anyone unfortunate enough to come across a recent BMW advert might be asking him or herself just what the heck is going on at the Bavarian firm’s marketing office. The bizarre behavior started late last year, when the famous carmaker launched its new electric SUV, the iX. Instead of taking onboard the plentiful criticism the vehicle received for its very different design, someone decided it would be a great idea to mock customers and insult them by using the “OK, boomer” meme. The thought that anyone even considered this to be a good idea—and that a senior manager or director at BMW actually signed this off—still boggles the mind. One would hope the individual in question was escorted off the premises by security once the brand was engulfed in the ensuing shitstorm.
The company quickly apologized for this total mishap, and everyone thought things were okay again. Except they weren’t. A couple of days ago, the brand posted a video that featured the iX and an older 7-Series “talking” to each other in what must be the most toenail-curling piece of cringe ever unleashed on unsuspecting fans of the German brand. You can watch the whole tragedy here, but be warned: It’s bad. Not only do the two Teutonic cars have American accents for whatever reason, but the whole storyline—with the iX being the young car of the future and the 7-Series as the gas-guzzling grandpa of days gone by—is just flat, predictable, and tone-deaf on a number of levels.
In the video, the two cars make up in the end and all is well, but it really isn’t. You’d expect an ad this terrible to be fake, probably created by some overenthusiastic film student (and not a genuine marketing effort from the global car manufacturer itself). The sad thing is that BMW can do so much better. The firm has created some absolutely stellar work in the past, such as this masterpiece of a video featuring the true story of how nine people escaped East Germany in 1964 with the help of a BMW Isetta. Then there was the series of short films that showed that the company understood viral marketing before viral marketing even really existed. If you have never seen this collection of mini masterpieces, then you really need to stop reading this and take a minute to see just how brilliant BMW ads used to be. Here’s one called The Hire, starring a young Clive Owen.
What BMW’s marketing people are doing right now isn’t futuristic, edgy or trailblazing. It’s embarrassing and cringeworthy, and it totally misses the mark. Someone in senior management was probably afraid to lose connection with younger customers, and decided to buy into whatever hare-brained idea was sold to him. The result is a mess that leaves buyers unsure what to think of the brand in a time when it is crucial that the Bavarians position themselves correctly for the future. They could have gone down the iconic route again and produced marketing greatness, but decided not to. Let’s hope this decision doesn’t come back to haunt them.