In my mind, there has always been one social media marketing campaign that really stood out among the others – a campaign way before its time, which literally caused the industry to stop in its tracks and rethink the way forward. That award goes to BMW.
At the turn of the millennium, BMW posted sales of $33bn, a slight decrease from 1999. Afraid of further loss, they turned to long term advertising partner Fallon Worldwide to come up with a new campaign to prevent further decline.
Through extensive consumer research on their typical customer (46 years old, £80k income, 2/3rds male, married with no children), they discovered that 85 per cent of their customer base used the internet prior to purchasing a new BMW.
From this, the automotive manufacturer and Fallon put together what I believe was the greatest ever social media marketing campaign, to reach out to their new, internet savvy customer base.
That campaign was The Hire.
It’s not surprising how many people have not heard of this campaign. Not only are there more than six times the amount of people with access to the internet today than there was ten years ago, but many of the social networking platforms that would have helped this campaign to spread virally, such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter had not even been invented yet. Social media was in its infancy, but this campaign was a worthy competitor to today’s greatest efforts.
The Hire was a series of short films produced solely for the internet in 2001 and 2002. Some of the world’s greatest directors, including Guy Ritchie (Lock Stock, Snatch, RocknRolla), Tony Scott (Man on fire, Top Gun, Unstoppable), John Woo (Face/Off, Mission Impossible 2), Ang Lee (Crouching tiger, Hulk) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 grams) were brought in to direct each film.
The plot of each of the shorts differed, but each one starred Clive Owen playing ‘The Driver’, a suave character behind the wheel of multiple BMWs, hired by various people to act as a transporter for their various needs. The short films also featured a multitude of other famous actors, including Madonna, Forrest Whittaker, Gary Oldman and Mickey Rourke.
Typical ‘Hollywood’ methods of marketing were used, such as billboards, broadcast spots and free posters. With budgets similar to those of high end commercials, Fallon had flipped the traditional advertising equation upside down, by spending 90 per cent of its budget on production, and only 10 per cent on media. At the time this was seen as a huge risk.
The initial cost of the first five films in 2001 was an estimated $15 million. Due to overwhelming web traffic, industry praise and BMW’s bottom-line success, an additional three films were produced in 2002 coming in at around $10 million.
The series won numerous awards, receiving praise across the board. From a marketing industry perspective, perhaps the greatest accolade of The Hire was winning the first ever Titanium Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival.
By June 2003, more than 45 million people had viewed the films, overshooting the original goal of 2 million by a long shot. To date, views are well into the hundreds of millions.
However, the real success came in sales. In 2001, BMW sales increased by 12.5 per cent, surpassing the 200,000 mark for the first time in the company’s history. The following year, sales continued to rise an additional 17.2 per cent, outselling Mercedes and placing BMW in a firm second in the luxury car market behind Lexus.
These results, for any marketing campaign are incredible. But it is easy to forget that these were produced ten years ago. The use of the internet as a marketing medium chosen over television was a real innovation. It was also one of the first digital campaigns produced at this level used to build the brand image, rather than sell a single product.
Finally, the video was shared through word of mouth and online via email at levels many digital marketers today can only dream of.
He who dares…
Through the extraordinary risk taking, and high quality production that mirrored brand values so well, BMW had created the ultimate social marketing campaign that delivered real bottom line results, and helped shape the future of social media marketing. In my view, it was the greatest campaign in history.