BMW's 'The Hire' campaign shows why great advertising requires courage

Topics BMW | ad campaigns | advertising

Ahmed Aftab Naqvi, CEO & co-founder Gozoop India
Which is your favourite campaign and why?
It is BMW’s The Hire campaign launched in the year 2001. This doesn’t typically fit in the profile of what one would usually consider the greatest creative idea nor does it change people’s lives as some of the other great campaigns have done. I have chosen this for the sheer foresight and its deep impact on how today’s advertising is happening.

It changed the game and today what we do in terms of content creation, specifically branded content creation, The Hire was like a flagship campaign for that. And this campaign was the first example of short video films that a brand had created which were great entertaining campaigns also. In those films, each with a different storyline and duration of six to seven minutes, actor Clive Owen who was not as well known back then featured as a driver.

Each of these short movies showed action-packed car chases and was directed by very crazy directors including the likes of Guy Ritchie and Ang Lee. Today we talk about content marketing but this was in 2001 and effectively, this went viral before the age of viral.

How would you define viral back in time?
I think just word of mouth publicity. Anyone who was even remotely passionate about cars knew about this campaign. I was in school and the internet used to be really slow It was a fabulous piece of content which was put on a custom player, which was built on a separate site that BMW had created. And this was almost 19 years ago, four years before YouTube was invented and five years before you had Facebook to share something on it. But before all these power tools were there, it was still seen (what I remember) more than 100 million times. People were actually copying pasting these links and emailing them to friends. 

Action-packed thrillers do have such an impact on the audience but what did these film do to the brand?
The back story is perhaps more important. Although this seems like a great idea in today's time, how did it happen so long ago? In the 1990s, BMW noticed that profits were sliding and it had to do something about that. They concluded that the internet savvy customer was more likely to buy a BMW and set the ball rolling. It was a very forward looking idea. They got this phenomenal director called David Fincher who then roped in other directors and actors. From dark and disturbing to downright hilarious, each story had its own flavour depending on the director and the total film budget at that time cost around $25 million to produce because it showed expensive BMW cars getting smashed. 

How crucial an advantage is such a hefty budget for any campaign? 
I don’t think there is one sweeping answer for that. It depends on the objective and what the campaign is all about. As for BMW, if I remember correctly, there was some serious increase in sales. By their own admission, the company  doubled its growth after this campaign and there was a 74 per cent increase in sales. They got around $27 million in exposure value through publicity and this was free publicity in 2000s when there was no “shareability” which makes it all the more phenomenal. 

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel