Content Marketing, it’s nothing new

Remember when BMW called Madonna a ****?

Ok. So it wasn’t BMW directly, it was Clive Owen. But BMW paid him to say it at the direction of her former husband.

You see, back in the early 2000s BMW wasn’t just making cars, it was also making movies. Eight movies of eight minutes. Just over an hour of pure unadulterated rock-star Hollywood engine-block-buster.

Don’t believe me? Owen and Madonna weren’t the only big screen royalty involved. These films include among their credits: Ang Lee, John Woo, Tony and Ridley Scott, Guy Ritchie, Forest Whittaker, Mickey Rourke, Gary Oldman, Marilyn Manson… I could go on, but you get the point.

It was a breath-taking act for a brand using the newly unleashed power of the internet – this was four years pre-YouTube. Eight well written, exceptionally executed pieces of pure entertainment, released online and later also on DVD. Not a product benefit in sight. Unless, of course, you include ability to J-turn under machine gun fire.

“Unleashing the power of the internet, pre- YouTube.”

As a ‘car man’, a genuine petrol-head, I loved these movies. They didn’t appear to exist for any reason than entertainment. You didn’t even hear the phrase BMW. Just Owen driving a Five Series or Z4. Usually quickly.

Only, as a marketing man, I knew different. They were there to ‘sex-up’ BMW at a time when they really needed it.

The company’s relatively recent purchase of Rover was a short-term disaster, sapping energy and funds. The product range looked tired. The new BMW Z8 roadster (a thing of beauty to these eyes) was considered overweight and under-powered. The brand had just launched its first SUV. Maybe BMW wasn’t for affluent, thrusting young Turks any longer? Maybe BMW was now the middle-aged man’s ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’. More Park Lane than fast lane.

So here was Owen and supporting cast to put you right. A car company making, not advertisements, but movies. It was pure Content Marketing a decade before you ever heard the phrase. Storytelling back when that’s all marketing ever was (it still is, by the way, whoever says otherwise).

“This was Content Marketing a decade before you heard the phrase.”

The result? Sales up 12% in the first year, over eleven million website views in four months (all of this was pre-social media, don’t forget) and data capture at a scale previously unheralded.

But perhaps more than numbers, these movies reminded the BMW target market that it was still cool to drive a beemer. BMW hadn’t gone away. Hadn’t forgotten its brand roots. Hadn’t dispensed with its dynamic ethos. Perhaps just slipped a gear on the road to greater success.

Other brands tried to copy, but without anywhere near the same impact. And in truth, with probably nowhere near the same ambition or budget. But that’s the problem with great ideas. With great content. You can’t reinvent the wheel.

So what’s the next cracking Content Marketing concept to come out of the car business, or has the ambition and drive waned? Answers on a postcard.

Me, I’m trying to work on something with FCA Group. It’s a full scale movie. I have this notion about three Fiat 500s coming into London to rob the Bank of England. In fact, ‘hang on a minute lads I’ve got a great idea… er…er…”

See Madonna and Clive Owen here.


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