It just works. We know this, team. Branded entertainment is the way to many a consumer’s heart.
To get the throbbing masses dotingly chasing your corporate tail, display your wares covered in a thick layer of chocolate frosting. Produce something of such high quality that your sales pitch or brand message is so subliminally digested it only really clicks in a customer’s head when they’ve completed a nice little purchase from your store, or better yet, never at all.
It’s an obviously tricky business, and one that at the turn of the millennia hadn’t, it’s fair to say, quite been perfected. In 2001, Bavarian Motor Works changed all that.
In the year 2000, BMW experienced a slight slide. Sales had gone from $34 billion in 1999 to $33 billion the following year, and the trend was one that the car maker wasn’t super keen to see continue.
I don’t know if you remember much about those loose-jeaned, blonde tipped, Backstreet’s-back years, but burned into most people’s memories will be the shrill wail produced by the dial-up modem, and the associated excitement and anticipation of getting lost in the limitless depths of the worldwide web.
BMW at that time had a foolproof marketing plan. Wax and polish a new model until you could pluck your nose hairs in it, set it on a slice of curving mountain road, and hire a chopper to film the erotically beautiful results.
But, having gone annually backward to the tune of a cool bil, BMW decided it needed to re-jig its corporate advertising mainsail. It consulted its long-term advertising partner Fallon Worldwide, who came back to them shouting “Eureka” and high-fiving anyone within an eager arms-length.
“THE INTERNET”, they cried.
BMW’s customer base was, in comparison to the rest of the early-2000s population, as internet savvy as they came. And Fallon saw an opportunity that, somewhat surprisingly, had not really been touched before – create a web-series subtly centred around a product. The Hire.
And BMW had no intention of doing this thing by half-measures. They employed directors such as Guy Ritchie, Ang Lee and John Frankenheimer. They courted Clive Owen, Forest Whitaker and Mickey Rourke to act. And it was stunning.
A first series of five 10-minute episodes, followed by a second series of three, followed the exploits of “The Driver”, who, rather handily, always seemed to be behind the wheel of the latest and greatest driving machines our cluey German manufacturer had to offer.
The styles of the directors and the presence of the actors combined to create the sort of shorts that were made to go viral, even before the word viral was a thing.
The response from consumers, whether BMW fanatics or not, was incredible. Two million people registered with the BMW website to be the first to catch the next installment. DVDs given to dealerships to hand out were gone within hours of arriving. Prior to Youtube and Vimeo, the videos were accessed 100 million times, all through BMW’s own website. They’d hit gold.
As a result, the company’s sales saw a turnaround of 12%. $4 billion extra on the bottom line. Now I’ve never described myself as a maths whiz, but when compared to a production budget of $25 million for the films, it seems to me a worthwhile investment.
Copycat productions from the likes of Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and boat manufacturer BRP followed, but with notably less impact. Not only for the fact that the idea wasn’t a new one, but also because BMW had not only broken the branded entertainment mould, but they’d done so in such an epic, indomitable way.
Such is the power of creative branded marketing. To surprise the consumer with something they’ve never seen before, or to create something that transcends advertising and goes deeply into the artistic, gives your brand the sort of standing that no amount of 30-second TV slots or full page newspaper spreads could ever do.
And the good news is that these days, the shifted focus towards branded marketing means you don’t need to find $25 million down the back of the couch in order to invest in a creative campaign. Smartphones and tablets allow your story to be told anywhere, and as long as you’re not eyeing off Guy Ritchie to sit in the director’s chair, the costs to produce a high-quality piece of work are well down on 15 years ago.
When it comes to your brand’s marketing, you’re sitting behind the wheel. Embrace the different, and customers will embrace you.