Media: Strategy Analysis - BMW tests the intelligence of targets

Brand: BMW
Client: Suzanne Gray, advertising manager
Brief: Encourage non-BMW owners to engage with the brand
Target audience: 25- to 44-year-old ABC1 adults
Budget: £2 million+

Media: PHD
Creative: WCRS


BMW is a hugely successful brand in the UK. However, the middle classes no longer want to wear brand affiliations on their sleeves. As a direct result of this, the challenge was to take a brand with a bold advertising heritage and find ways to take it "under the radar" in the search for car buyers who would not normally consider purchasing a BMW.

Research suggested BMW's new target audience likes to be intellectually challenged so, with this in mind, the "IQ elevation strategy" was devised in a bid to reassert the premium nature of the brand. In practice, this meant creating challenges that only the "intelligently informed" could solve.

Examples of these challenges included hiding the brand name in a major TV campaign and embedding hidden facts within merchandise. The idea was to deliver extra levels of meaning for consumers who were in the active stage of buying a car. It also got them to reappraise their perception of BMW.


In order for the idea to work, it had to be done on an extensive scale and across all BMW communication - internal and external, above and below the line. All campaign elements followed the strategy perfectly. This was some task.

- TV: An interactive TV campaign was rolled out across Sky channels. TV viewers who pressed the red button were taken to an interactive zone, featuring an unreleased TV ad.

- Radio: The voiceover from the TV activity was used in a solus 60-second radio ad, which ran the week before the TV ads broke. Spots on Newslink and Network targeting ABC1 drivers ran without any branding.

- Print: The market research company Mori was commissioned to produce an in-depth survey into the true nature of pleasure in modern society. The research formed the basis of a glossy supplement in The Observer featuring subtle BMW branding.

- Online: A dedicated microsite was launched containing secret nuggets of information, which could be activated by users scrolling their cursor over hidden areas.

- Direct marketing: The idea was also taken into direct marketing with one-to-one customer communication. This contained virtually no product information, but drew consumers towards the brand.


Around 252,000 intellectually curious people pressed the red button to find out more.

Although interesting, what is really important is the residual effect on awareness. PHD found that hiding the brand had a disproportionate effect on awareness measures.

In addition, the activity had an immediate impact on the business. A highly significant (but undisclosed) amount of incremental car sales were attributable to the campaign and the direct mail piece outperformed all previous activity by 400 per cent.

THE VERDICT - Marco Rimini worldwide head of communications planning, MindShare

The British and their desire for understated achievement! It's so much easier in Italy. The rule is: if you've got it, flaunt it, and if you're not flaunting it, then you haven't got it.

It makes it so much harder to market premium brands in the UK. You can't be too showy or it looks like you're trying too hard, but if you are invisible no-one knows who you are, and what is the value of a badge if you are the only one who appreciates how good or expensive it is?

This is an ingenious attempt, using the full armoury of modern media, to solve this puzzle. Ads with no brand! Interactive, hidden areas. Disguised sections of microsites, subtly branded supplements on pleasure. All done to attract the attention of the buyer and test their intelligence. I approve of a well-constructed use of multiple points of interaction, all building off a central idea. Who wouldn't?

But the critical issue is often defining the problem precisely and I am not sure BMW's problem is all about the perceived lack of intelligence of their customer base. The issue is not really BMW drivers' IQ. In fact, it is precisely not their IQ. IQ is to intelligence as league tables are to education: an attempt to measure the immeasurable, to count the uncountable.

It's about class - and the class BMW wants to talk to looks down on IQ and league tables as signs of national deterioration, along with ball-tampering and a decline in good manners. What this class wants is not to be intellectually challenged, but intellectually comforted. To be reassured of the eternal truths that have been handed down from generation to generation. Think Boden, think Waitrose, think Church's. Think Audi drivers talking about BMW drivers.

More realistically, I applaud the media work that went into this campaign as the start of the long-term rehabilitation that BMW will need. What I would like to see is it being extended visibly and concretely into the product and the bundle of services around it. More and more, I am convinced of the importance of crossing the line between promotion and innovation - not just trying to change image through the application of better make-up, but actually experimenting with some serious genetic engineering with the product.

Score: 4 out of 5.


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