BMW Gives Younger Crowd A Thrill Ride

With Infiniti closing in the rear-view mirror and Acura nosing into the lead, Publicis Groupe’s Fallon this week is mounting what BMW calls its largest ad campaign ever, for the redesigned 3 Series launch.

Aimed at thrill-seeking drivers, the multiplatform push features a prime-time network TV effort focused on exhilaration, vintage commercials on nostalgia cable channels, extensive print gatefolds detailing the first makeover since 1998 of BMW’s best-selling line, interactive Internet ads (with Yahoo!) and an 18-hour “BMW Channel” Sirius satellite broadcast featuring a Goo Goo Dolls concert.

Though BMW declined to discuss spending, Ken Bracht, manager for the 3 Series at BMW, Woodcliff Lake, N.J., called it “the largest campaign to date, including dollar spend.” In 1998, BMW spent $30 million to promote a remodeled 3 Series, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Broadcast leads with a prime-time TV buy heavy with season finales. The 30-second spots show young adults steeling themselves to act by counting to three. College-age partiers fool around by a lake, playfully tossing one into the water; a skydiver listens to her jumpmaster and prepares to leap; a rock drummer sets the tempo with his sticks. A fourth spot adds to the motif and reprises the other spots with rapid-fire editing. The commercials cut at “three” to footage of the car dramatically zooming down roads through snow-capped mountain valleys.

“The 3 Series is an icon,” said Bruce Bildsten, executive creative director at Fallon, Minneapolis, “and as simplistic as doing ‘one, two, three’ might seem, what other cars can you think of that are known around the world for the number?”

But the 3 Series faces “a tremendous amount of competition,” added Bildsten, “especially from Japanese automakers, from the Acura TSX and Infiniti G35, as well as Audi and Mercedes. They’re all trying to capture the magic of the BMW formula, the perfectly balanced driver’s car, and throwing more into the deals to beat BMW on paper.”

Both Acura and Infiniti have been putting more money than BMW behind their brands. In 2004, Infiniti backed the G35 with $70 million and Acura pushed the TL and TSX with nearly $80 million, per Nielsen, reaping sales of 71,177 and 108,260 vehicles, respectively, compared to 106,549 3 Series sales, according to Car Concepts in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

“With the arrival of the new 3 Series, the segment has never been more competitive than it is now,” said Wes Brown, principal at automotive consultancy Iceology in Westwood, Calif. “The market is moving with the younger generation of consumers to vehicles that are fun to drive, not floaty, soft rides that remove you from the sense of driving. That’s why the Europeans have done well, aspirationally, with this group and why Infiniti and Acura are doing well.”