REPRODUCED WITH(OUT) PERMISSION
RE: The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, November 28, 2000
No. 5 | In a Series on Unique Brand Challenges
Jim McDowell, Vice President, Marketing, BMW of North America
The Ultimate Brand?
On beginnings. I went to Colorado College and then studied public policy at Harvard. So it’s not the typical resume for a ‘car guy.’ I am more of an experimental ‘car guy,’ a generalist but without doubt an enthusiast. I do what I do because I have a passion for the product – actually, the experience, I market.
Knowing who you are. And who you aren’t. We respect brands, just as we respect people who have a sure sense of what their mission in life is. For 25 years, we haven’t changed who are or what our tagline is. A BMW is the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine.’ We’ve interpreted it in different ways and demonstrated it through different models, but that fundamental idea has never varied. Everyone who works here understands that completely: ‘Yup, that’s who we are.’
A glance in the rearview mirror. A magazine once bluntly wrote: ‘BMW has the positioning everyone else wants.’ It’s a fascinating phenomenon. Companies that only three years ago were selling really soft luxury cars now – snap fingers – are selling them with performance imagery. If the truth of the product doesn’t meet the conceit of the marketing, no one is persuaded. I frankly believe most drivers of these cars would be horrified to learn the cars had minivan parts in them. We have always built performance machines, and every year we make them better than we did the year before.
The reintroduction of the roadster. In the early ‘90s, the German auto industry in the U.S. was down in the dumps. The economy was bad, but most of the marketing didn’t help. A lot of the marketing was about mere status – not status earned by performance. And the products had to change to be more responsive to North American tastes and driving habits.
BMW demonstrated its commitment to succeed in the North American market in a big way: we decided to build cars in a new plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. And the product that we developed and built here had a brilliant debut – the Z3 roadster.
When we first saw the Z3, we were just blown away that anything that expressive would come to the market. We realized that this was not just about introducing a new car – it was about introducing a new icon on the American landscape.
The importance of being James Bond. As it happened, at the same time a new BMW was coming to market, a new James Bond was coming to market. So we introduced the Z3 in (Pierce Brosnan’s) Golden Eye. It was a brilliant fit. When you say James Bond, you think of this mythical figure who had incredible abilities and was always sided by the most clever devices. Golden Eye also enabled us to do funny ads. In one spot, we featured a speaker in the House of Lords, announcing to a horrified chamber: ‘Our best secret agent, James Bond, is driving a B…M…W…’ [GASPS FILL CHAMBER.]
That Bond film was effectively the launch of the Z3, and we did it all for a media investment of less than $15 million. We’ve continued the association through three subsequent Bond Films.
The next mountain. When we began the X5, we learned there were a lot of people who liked the idea of an SUV better than they liked the current execution of it. That gave us a tremendous opportunity to engineer a radically different solution. The BMW X5 doesn’t have those typical truck-like driving characteristics or construction techniques. Nobody had ever done that before. We offered a clear alternative.
The greatest skeptics, however, may have been our own enthusiast base. They asked: Was BMW hopping on the SUV bandwagon? Did we have anything unique to contribute? A test drive put these questions to rest. But I mention this to show that powerful brands, with avid enthusiasts, do not operate in complete freedom – they have to satisfy passionate and vocal constituencies.
A history of surprises. Providing clear alternatives is our heritage. Just like when BMW introduced the 2002 to North America thirty years ago. It just shocked people. It was this small, unaggressive looking car with incredible agility and a motor that performed beyond anyone’s belief. People had never seen any car like it until BMW built it. We have ideas on the drawing board right now that are fundamentally as surprising as the original 2002 was.
BMW and The Wall Street Journal. Our target market has an ‘appointment contract’ with The Wall Street Journal. A time set aside for uncluttered, focused interaction. We believe that during this time, in these pages, our message will be appreciated. And The Wall Street Journal has an unbelievably high talk factor; people talk at the water cooler about what they read in The Journal. And we believe an interesting, engaging ad is as likely to be talked about as an interesting, engaging story.
For a clean, two-page hard copy of this document, just send me quick email request with the subject line – “BMW-Lifestyle” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Would love “a conversation” with BMW, WSJ, &/or (as I am also a Colorado College graduate) Jim McDowell.
 NOTE: This is from a pre-9/11 world.