BMW Turns to Cable, Mags to Pitch Diesel Lines

For many Americans who came of age in the ‘70s, diesel is a dirty word, redolent of grimy exhaust fumes and percussive knocking in the engine block. While diesel-powered vehicles enjoyed a brief surge of popularity during the 1979 oil crisis, the soot and noise outweighed any savings to be found at the pumps, and by the early ‘80s, drivers had all but turned their backs on the format.
 
BMW is looking to change our perceptions of diesel, prepping a new campaign designed to sell drivers on a cleaner-burning, eco-friendly fuel that doesn’t get in the way of performance. In accordance with the automaker’s “EfficientDynamics” initiative, BMW this month will launch a multiplatform offensive in support of its 335d sedan and X5 xDrive35d crossover, a buy that includes prime-time cable, print and a pair of radical online homepage takeovers.
 
On Sunday, August 16, the first of two 30-second diesel spots will appear during the season-three premiere of AMC’s original drama series, Mad Men. As the exclusive sponsor of the show’s 10 p.m. premiere, BMW will enjoy an uncluttered commercial environment, while reaping the benefits of its association with one of television’s must buzz-worthy series.

Each of the new EfficientDynamics spots begins in darkness. In a voiceover, actor Brian Unger tells viewers that, “Americans are always finding ways to be more responsible,” at which point, a canopy of energy efficient light bulbs begin to illuminate the scene. Flanked by a milk-white 335d sedan and an equally clean X5, Unger pitches viewers on BMW’s “commitment to lower emissions while enhancing the thrill of the drive.” The spot ends with Unger promising that BMW drivers will “find responsibility quite exhilarating.”
 
A second spot echoes the first, only in this execution, Unger reveals that BMW is offering a “$4500 eco credit,” or rebate, on the 335d and X5 diesel. That offer is valid through August 31.

As was the case during last year’s Mad Men opener, BMW will also be featured in a special vignette. A year ago, the centerpiece of the car maker’s Mad Men buy was an interview with former Ammirati & Puris chairman and CEO Martin Puris, in which he revealed the genesis of the “Ultimate Driving Machine” slogan. This year’s vignette will juxtapose the Bakelite dial telephones and mimeograph machines of 1964 with the smart phones and laser printers used in today’s office environment.
 
In addition to the Mad Men premiere, the BMW spots will also appear on a host of ad-supported cable series, including: Bravo’s Top Chef Las Vegas and Top Chef Masters; TNT original dramas The Closer, Leverage and Dark Blue; Travel Channel’s Man v. Food and Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations; Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild and Mythbusters; and the Sept. 22 season finale of Syfy’s Warehouse 13.
 
“This is the big push,” said Patrick McKenna, manager of marketing communications, BMW. “Because these are our first diesels in 25 years, we did some messaging back in January and February when the vehicles first started to arrive. But this is our big splash.”
 
McKenna characterized the buy as an education effort, a move to help bring the American luxury market up to speed with its European counterparts. “We’ve been selling diesel cars in Europe for years. Two-thirds of our volume in Germany, for instance, are diesel vehicles,” McKenna said. “For us, it’s about changing the perception that diesel is still that noisy and smelly [technology] many people remember from the ‘70s.”
 

In addition to getting American drivers comfortable with the idea of a cleaner burning diesel––the new generation of BMW diesels have been engineered for 20 percent fewer carbon emissions––the EfficientDynamics campaign also has much to say about fuel economy and power. The 335d averages 36 mpg (highway) and generates 420 pounds-feet of torque, or about enough power to pull a house off its foundation.
 
“One of the things our research showed us is that affluent Americans don’t want to sacrifice performance for fuel efficiency,” McKenna said. “The 335d can go from 0-60 [mph] in 6 seconds flat …That’s immediate power.”
 
As the TV spots begin to pop up later this month, a series of complementary print ads touting the benefits of the new diesel technology will run in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. One ad addresses the Obama administration’s call for more tougher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks (“Mr. President, perhaps we can be of some assistance”). A second execution featuring the 335d and X5 reiterates the $4,500 eco credit pitch.
 
Also in the offing is a five-page Vanity Fair spread shot on the Mad Men set, in front of the exterior of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency. Models in period costume gawk at a BMW 335d, which has landed amid the show’s early-‘60s milieu like some sort of alien spacecraft.
 
The campaign includes one fairly radical element as well. On Monday, August 24, BMW will initiate a homepage takeover of the New York Times Web site. Shortly after the page loads, the site will momentarily “go dark,” mimicking the beginning of the TV spots. When the lights go up, Unger is revealed, holding a CFL bulb (compact fluorescent light), and standing alongside the new BMW diesel models.
 
Also on tap is a homepage takeover of MSN.com, in which Unger will figuratively reach out of the frame and into the surrounding site copy. As is the case with the NYTimes.com buy, the MSN execution bows August 24.
 
While BMW did not disclose how much it would spend on the diesel campaign, the focus on cable and the limited run-time suggests that the investment is a fraction of what most automakers shell out in support of their hybrid vehicles. BMW spent $150 million on stateside ads in 2008, roughly in line with the previous year’s spending, per Nielsen.
 
Austin-based creative agency GSD&M Idea City and Interpublic Group’s Universal McCann handled planning duties. UM, which won BMW’s national media business in May, fulfilled buying duties.