Opinion: BMW Joins the No-Luck-With-Joy Club

Now that two weeks have passed since the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, I’ve got a question: Do you still feel happy? After all, the Vancouver games had more elation and joy packed into them than an old-time tent revival. Incidentally, I’m not talking about the athletes and their beaming parents, but the jubilation and glee that filled the commercial segments in between their snowy exploits.

I’m not one to argue with joy—we all could use more of it. But when it comes down to using joy as a theme in a TV spot, well, there’s a lesson here. While some brands proved themselves adept at adopting this deceptively simple theme, others tripped on it—which prompts me to say: Be careful with those odes to joy, ye brands.

Admittedly, Coca-Cola truly found its groove with “Open Happiness,” an optimistic pean to small pleasures and all things good in the world. Even GE made me smile with its celebration of the heroics of healthcare workers in a faux-Super Bowl stadium setting.  (How refreshing it was to watch something uplifting about healthcare.)

But the joy success stories ended there. Case in point: BMW’s “Joy” bit veered way off the track. For those who missed it, here’s a recap:

Joy is why we built this company.
Joy is our inspiration.
It is efficient and dynamic, responsive and responsible.
At BMW, we don’t just make cars. We make Joy.

Huh? These lines felt more like a manifesto than soaring strains to mirth and merriment. A decade ago, with its “Think Different” campaign, Apple showed everyone how this kind of “what we stand for” campaign is done. Apple aligned its brand with iconic thinkers of the 20th century including Ghandi and Einstein—and it was credible. The company followed up the message with brilliant products and marketing, and I’m not surprised at Apple having just reported its highest-ever sales and profits.

Would only that BMW not have attempted to drive the same set of wheels. For starters, joy is just not a word we use every day; its limited appearances include Christmas carols, wedding and birth announcements, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and O magazine. Joy is a rare word and a hefty emotion most always tied to important life events and spiritual feelings.

Not a two-door coupe.

According to the dictionary, happiness is based on luck or good fortune while joy is described as a vivid emotion of pleasure. Happiness depends on circumstance; joy on our emotional well-being. Hence, while it may be perfectly acceptable for Coke to promise happiness for a dollar or two, it feels a bit tacky to suggest joy has a material price (let alone a sticker price).

BMW is also starting up a lemon that other brands have left on the side of the road. I didn’t feel so good about joy when Pepsi tried it either—wallpapering the New York City subways with its “JOY” message last year and, before that, paying Britney Spears to sing to us about joy:

The world goes round and round
But some things never change
Ba pa pa pa ba pa pa pa
The joy of Pepsi (yea)

Let’s also not forget that Sony tried to sell us joy with its “Dreams” campaign, and P&G has been selling us Joy as a dish detergent for 50 years.

So it’s understandable that BMW also concluded that joy is a great idea—”If only we can make it ours,” its marketing team must have thought. The problem is, this is the company that has prided itself on engineering perfection (aka “The Ultimate Driving Machine”). Where Apple had always been seen as a brand that did things differently, BMW comes across as inauthentic to now claim that its Teutonic ambition has always been to provide joy rather than driving performance.