Bmw Films

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BMW Films

It was August 2001, and Jim McDowell, vice president of marketing for BMW North America, was reflecting on BMW’s latest marketing campaign as he sat before his computer:

McDowell bent forward, and hit the “play” button on the screen. On the computer monitor, a movie scene unfolded. The scene was part of BMW’s latest marketing campaign—five short films created for the Internet. Directed by a cadre of internationally renowned directors, the films had gripping story lines and were generating tremendous industry-wide buzz. Two Tibetan monks, one barely eight years old, survey the icy lot of a shipping yard. A driver pulls up in a sleek BMW 540i. The younger monk is helped into the car. The driver adjusts his rear view mirror to monitor his passenger. Their breath is visible as they size each other up. Two more sets of headlights suddenly appear in the yard. A ballet of escape begins; a beefy Mercedes and a nimble Honda team up to trap the 540i. Automatic weapons erupt as Baroque music plays in the background, and a veritable midnight ‘pas-de-trois’ plays out in the icy field of shipping containers. “This is my favorite film,” McDowell remarked as he turned from his computer. There was no question that the films were good, perhaps too good. “The question is, what do we do for an encore?”

BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine1



Bayeriche Motoren Werke (AG) was originally founded in 1916 as an aircraft engine manufacturer. The Munich-based BMW produced its first automobile in 1929; by the 1980s, the company’s position in the luxury/performance segment of the global automotive market had been firmly established. The core of the BMW product line was its sedans. The company offered three distinct Series:

1 Some of the information in this section draws on Robert J. Dolan, “Bayeriche Motoren Werke AG (BMW),” HBS No. 593-082, (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 1993), and Susan Fournier, “Launching the BMW Roadster,” HBS No. 597-002, (1997). ____________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________ Professor Youngme Moon and Research Associate Kerry Herman prepared this case HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management. Copyright © 2002 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the permission of Harvard Business School.

This document is authorized for use only by Allan Collard-Wexler until October 2012. Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. or 617.783.7860.


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People respond negatively to gratuitous commercialism. But in our films, the BMW vehicles are not gratuitous props; they are actors in a scene. There are no beauty shots of the cars. The cars get extensively beat up. Each car is there because it is a very important actor in the development of the plot. The cars definitely take their lumps along the way. There’s nothing gratuitous about it.

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REV: OCTOBER 12, 2005


BMW Films

The 3 Series was BMW’s entry-level sedan. Launched in 1975, it tended to attract upwardly mobile professionals; as McDowell put it, “These are people who are achieving success early in life, people on their way up.” In 1989, the 3 Series accounted for about half of BMW unit sales and was priced between $25,000 and $34,000.

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The 5 Series, launched in 1972, was BMW’s mid-range sedan. In 1989, it...
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