OPINION: Andrew Robertson in America

There's a new model in town.

It's a new car model (though there are plenty of those). But it does

feature five new BMWs. You can see it by going to bmwfilms.com and,

unless you are one of the lucky few with access to the internet through

a high-speed ADSL service, by waiting a very long time.

Eventually you will be able to download and watch a series of five short

films called The Hire. Clive Owen plays "the Driver", the lead part, in

all of them. A role described by one witty New York wag as "Dirty Harry

without the right-wing baggage".

He is supported by a smattering of other celebrities, including the

world's most famous material girl, Madonna, and each was directed by one

of the hip directors of the moment such as Ang Lee of Crouching Tiger,

Hidden Dragon fame and Guy Ritchie of "married to Madonna" fame. (A

critic said he was more famous for this than his film directing.

Duh-huh. If Spielberg himself were married to her, then the same would

be true of him.)

They are neatly produced, action-packed dramas with lots of exciting

chase scenes that adequately demonstrate what Jim McDowell, BMW's

vice-president of marketing in North America, called "responsive


Sixteen million people have visited the site for an average of seven to

16 minutes (plus, all that viral stuff).

Conventional wisdom says you use television advertising to build

awareness, create an emotional connection, build image and interest, and

then direct consumers to a website where they can get all the

information they need to rationalise this desire, and move on to


"Conventional wisdom," Rutger Hauer said in a Guinness commercial,

courtesy of Wnek's wicked wrist, "is a sand-pit for an ostrich".

Now you use advertising (TV, press, cinema, online, the works) to trail

the films and get people to visit the site, download and watch the


All 100 per cent drama and image and, remarkably, zero per cent

information and zero per cent interactive. Everything is turned on its


The fixed production costs soar. (Note to agency heads: think twice

before giving away the commission on production in your next

negotiation.) But most of the viewing time is free to the advertiser,

and possibly paid for by the consumer. Instead of having to stick within

strict guidelines about the portrayal of speed and dangerous driving,

you can feature manic driving sequences and men with guns. (Note to

CAP/BACC: wait until our Trev and those professional radicals at HHCL

get on to this one.) But, like a BMW, this is not for everybody.

You need a high proportion of your target audience to have access to,

and regularly use, high-speed internet access. Okay if you are BMW in

the land of the free; less good if you are Ariel in Blighty.

You need an addressable market big enough to amortise the cost of the

production. (Norway, nul pointes, sorry.) And, most important of all,

you must be able to demonstrate the right stuff about your brand in a

compelling and original way, or else the horse won't drink.

And this one has been done.

I once had a client who would get infuriated when junior account

executives referred to commercials as films. He thought they were

missing the point. But now there's a new model in town.