BMW To Contenders: Get Work Up To Speed

Sensing that its “advertising is adrift” and “fading into the sea of sameness,” BMW is asking its creative contenders to move beyond the winding roads, beauty shots and other car category clichés that plagued its recent work and to restore creative luster to its campaigns.

In a confidential brief circulated in tandem with its request for proposals last week, the German automaker acknowledged that “as BMW product innovations continue unabated, the advertising continues to be dependent on the mass media conventions of the past … e.g., windy roads, the product as hero, BMW ‘look,’ etc.”

“Consistency has afforded BMW the ability to spend less,” the brief states. But the creativity of its advertising has not kept pace with that of its engineering, which includes accomplishments like on-board computers, Valvetronic engines and a hydrogen internal combustion engine scheduled for completion in 2007 or 2008, the form states. Judging by the brief, which calls BMW “arguably the most admired car company in the world,” the client thinks it can and should do better.

Just two years ago, the BMW brand was framed in gold laurels at ad festivals for its Internet film series, “The Hire,” which showcased the Z4 Roadster and boasted the star power of actor Clive Owen and director John Woo. The work won Fallon, now dismissed from the business, the first Titanium Lion at Cannes, celebrating innovation in advertising.

“With the exception of the Hire films, BMW advertising has failed to win any significant accolades in recent years,” the brief states.

The winning shop will not be asked to reinvent the brand (the 30-year-old tagline, “The ultimate driving machine,” will continue), but will be charged with reaching “a broader, more diverse audience”—on roughly half of last year’s ad budget. BMW spent about $150 million on measured media in 2004 and about $60 million through May 2005, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Going forward, it intends to spend $70-80 million, according to the brief, with a U.S. sales goal of roughly 275,000 vehicles. (BMW sold about 260,000 vehicles in 2004.)

The brief states that BMW-like advertising, performance claims and styling by rivals has led to an unwelcome “perceptual parity” in the market. Lexus spent about $240 million last year to sell some 290,000 vehicles; Infiniti, about $210 million to sell 130,000.

Unable to enter this “media ‘arms’ race,” BMW, which touts its cars’ precision, is looking for the same in its agency—a shop that can create integrated marketing aimed at a niche audience. “BMW needs to make $1 feel like $5,” the brief states. “If you don’t have a track record of creating stuff like this, this is probably the wrong opportunity for your agency.”

Car experience is not necessary. “In fact, BMW prefers that you come to this review free of the [category] conventions,” the brief states. To that point, Select Resources International in Santa Monica, Calif., has invited several agencies that have never held car accounts, including MDC Partners’ Margeotes Fertitta Powell in New York and independents MMB in Boston, Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago and Venables, Bell & Partners in San Francisco.

But most of the invited shops are steeped in car experience, including Interpublic Group’s Deutsch in New York and Marina del Rey, Calif. (Mitsubishi), Foote Cone & Belding in New York (Chrysler), Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston (Infiniti), TM Advertising in Irving, Texas (Subaru), and The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va. (Mercedes-Benz, Saab and Maserati); Omnicom Group’s GSD&M in Austin, Texas (Land Rover); MDC’s Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners in New York (Smart Car); WPP Group’s Berlin Cameron/Red Cell in New York (General Motors); and independent StrawberryFrog in Amsterdam and New York (Mitsubishi).

BMW regional roster shops Publicis and WPP’s Grey, both in New York, are expected to participate, but BMW Mini agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami will not, the client confirmed. Sources said the MDC shop was fighting to pitch, but executives at Mini were worried about playing second fiddle.

The client will review credentials in late August and visit agencies for chemistry meetings the week of Sept. 12, the form states. Finalists will be given an assignment, which will be tweaked in work sessions the week of Oct. 12. Final presentations are set for late October.

The winner will be asked for a national campaign. Once the ads attract people who “aspire to the same values BMW is built on”—authenticity, consistency and anticompliance, according to the brief—regional shops will drive customers to local dealers.