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Grey Blazes Western, National Trails for BMW

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LOS ANGELES Two spots breaking regionally for BMW's launch of its new X3 this week close a long drought for the Western region advertising of the brand.

In having its work run as both regional and future national spots, Grey Global Group's Grey, which won the account last December after a review, accomplished a feat that had become increasingly difficult and rare for BMW's previous Western agency, Mendelsohn/Zien.

"The relationship has gotten off to a terrific start," said John Crosson, president of Grey in Los Angeles. "It is particularly gratifying that our first TV work is going to be used across the country."

It also raises the profile of Grey executive creative director Bob Merlotti, who was brought on by Crosson in March 2003, but had little opportunity to add to his national TV portfolio since arriving, except for Pedigree, an account the agency lost.

"I'm excited to have our first ad out there," Merlotti said. "Since the BMW films came out, Fallon and Publicis in New York and Dallas have done stuff, so it's nice [for Grey] to get on the board." Mendelsohn/Zien's last commercial that aired outside the Western region, a BMW leasing offer, launched in the spring of 2003.

The X3 spots, directed by Justin Klarenbeck of Boxer Films, are two distinct executions of the same theme and setting. "Monster Family" defines the X3's target demo, the young, upscale couple who needs something more practical than a sports car but rejects SUVs. (BMW classifies the X3 as a SAV, a sport-activity vehicle, to emphasize that distinction.) In the spot, a woman glides into the driveway of a suburban home, where her grinning husband awaits. She then pops open the back to reveal her cargo, a large monster-truck toy, a visual pun for the "It has a little monster inside" tagline.

In "Monster Performance," playing to the single consumer, the payoff is simply her evident pleasure at avoiding the monsters and in driving a hot car. It uses the same setting, an urban street populated entirely by hulking monster trucks, except for the X3 driver, who happily darts through the traffic, avoiding collisions with the larger vehicles.

"SAV is not just a marketing phrase," said Merlotti, adding that a lower center of gravity makes the X3 less tippy than SUVs and more fun to drive.

"I like simple ideas for great products," said Merlotti. "The first execution is for the couple that settled but doesn't want to settle."

"The BMW brand is always about performance," said Crosson. "They're for drivers, not passengers. The creative shows that the world of big, lumbering SUVs is not really for drivers; this one is a performance vehicle."

Crosson said future spots for BMW will "leverage the enormous equity in the Ultimate Driving Machine idea, but 'dimensionalize' it by making it for you."

Merlotti said the spots were purposefully set on a street with "a small or college-town look to it. We didn't want it to look like the middle of the country, or like New York." Local streets in Burbank and Pacific Palisades, Calif., were chosen.

"When I arrived on set, they greeted me with the news that there was only a 50 percent chance that we'd be shut down," Merlotti recalled. "We were shooting right next to a senior citizen's home, and each of the three monster trucks sounded like 10 Harley-Davidsons. It turned out the seniors didn't mind: their hearing is already blown out, and they had something to watch."