If you’ve never experienced the short action film series, “The Hire”, originally commissioned by BMW in 2001-2002, now resurrected with a new installment that’s been burning up YouTube for the past few weeks, you’re missing out on what is quite possibly one of the most original and brilliant branding film campaigns ever devised. What else can you say of a series of YouTube short films that play out like episodes of “24”, whose consistent theme is to have the main character, played by none other than Clive Owen, systematically destroy the sponsor’s automotive products by driving them at insane speeds, through action movie stunt sequences that include everything from jumping them through city streets to dodging bullets from helicopter gunships? It is a wildly entertaining exercise of action movie destruction, seat of the pants stunts and humor.
So, when it was announced that BMW Films was being resurrected to continue the series, movie fans and car enthusiasts rejoiced at the thought of storyline hero Clive Owen thoroughly thrashing the latest BMW models. And the first of the new series, “The Escape”, does not disappoint, complete with SWAT teams, a helicopter vs. car tug-of-war (the car wins, of course) and a re-emergent former child star – Dakota Fanning.
The marketing power of this type of branding film is astonishing, especially considering that it seems to fly in the face of old school, conventional advertising techniques. When you think of how to sell the new BMW 5 series sedan, sleek and glossy images come to mind. Beautiful models driving a beautiful car through the mountains of the pacific coastline or through lens-flare-ridden nighttime city streets is the usual imagery you would associate with a high-end luxury sports sedan. But therein lies the problem – it’s just what you would expect. And because it’s expected, it lacks impact. Truth be told, you could substitute the competing model of Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln, Cadillac, Audi or Jaguar into the exact same commercial and it would not seem out of place at all. Advertisers know this well.
So, let’s define the difference between a branding film and a marketing film. A marketing film is, for lack of a better description, the “hard sell”. It is the straight salesmanship piece, complete with slick pictures, upbeat soundtrack and pretty people telling you all of the things they want you to know about their product, why it’s so wonderful, and why you should want it. And, to also be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with this type of production. It has its place and application. There is a time and a place for the straight appeal by virtue of selling points, because everyone who will purchase that product will, at some point, want to know those things. But the marketing and sales film, while brimming with stunning imagery and oozing with highlights of information, lacks something that any advertiser, whether selling cars or appealing for donations, must have to assure repeat business and customer loyalty – emotional appeal.
And therein lies the key difference between a marketing film and a branding film. It’s all about emotion. High-end product line marketers have understood this for years. Take another automotive example. How about an Italian supercar – the Lamborghini Aventador. Now, why on earth would you pay $750K for a Lamborghini? Is it because it’s practical?
Hardly. Is it because it gets great mileage and gets you a deep discount on your car insurance? Yeah, right. It does 0-60 in under 3 seconds and tops out at over 200 mph, pumping out 700 hp with a fuel-sucking V12 engine that sits directly behind your head. Truthfully, it’s not even all that comfortable for more than about an hour of driving, which is all the more time that tank of gas will last. It sits so low that it will scrape the curb pulling into the mall parking lot, and the insurance premiums alone would probably make most people’s house payments. No, you don’t buy a Lamborghini because you need one or think it’s practical. You buy a Lamborghini because it does something to you on a visceral level. You get emotional about a Lamborghini. Pure and simple.
When we sit to have initial discussions with a client about their need for branding vs. marketing materials, the conversation is led with asking two very distinct questions. For a marketing piece, the question really amounts to, “What information do you want to convey, and who are you conveying it to?” This is in stark contrast to the discussion of a branding piece, where the initial question really amounts to, “Describe the emotions you want people to feel when they think about your product or organization?”
If you just need to move product, and your primary driver for sales is price and features, you need to sell. You need to market. You need to appeal to that consumer who is in the market for what you have and convince them that your product or service is better quality and a better value. Your marketing film is focused more on features, price, convenience and reliability than anything else. Think of walking through the aisles of the grocery store, for example. Do you buy the brand name chocolate chips or the store brand of chocolate chips to make a batch of Christmas cookies? Exactly! You buy the one that’s on sale – 2 for 1 with your Plus Card. It’s not an emotional decision at all. It’s about value. Bang for the buck.
But a branding film as part of a branding campaign is something completely different. You want people to identify with a particular image, pattern of ideals or set of emotions that your brand represents. People buy Starbucks coffee because they identify with the Starbucks brand. People buy Apple products because they identify with the brand. And, in the car analogy, people likely buy say – a Toyota Prius – because they identify with the Prius brand and the social statement that they perceive it to make on their behalf. You see, the branding film’s job is to reinforce that set of emotions, which represents a set of ideals or a social group or a core demographic of some sort. It’s about associating your product or organization with a social status or statement, and that sometimes takes a wildly different path than the traditional marketing film.
So, what appeal do the BMW Films shorts have, and who do they appeal to? Some are obvious: action film fans, spy movie fans, Clive Owen fans, BMW fans. It could be argued that even more than just BMW fans, it will encompass racing fans, as well, which means car aficionados, and interestingly enough those types of fans probably already know all of the technical specs on the new BMW 5 series (those things that would be found in the marketing film). They probably also know all of those same specs for the competing Mercedes Benz, Jaguar and Audi models, as well. So what will tip the scale in favor of the BMW to clinch a sale?
When I drive a BMW 5 series, I will immediately feel that emotional anchor to Clive Owen driving the same car at breakneck speeds, dodging bullets and downing helicopters to save the beautiful girl riding helplessly in the back seat from her captors. For my needs, perhaps the Mercedes or Audi is a better value, but the BMW, I’ll reason in my mind, could come in handy if I ever have to dodge incoming bullets from a chopper and rescue a damsel in distress. Silly? Perhaps, but it is a successful brand affiliation that is as tried and true as time itself.
So, here’s to branding films. We may not all run out and buy a new BMW, but for sheer entertainment value, we’ll certainly watch the film more than once, and that is a hook that may one day return us to the dealer.