Bmw targets new drivers

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The problem, say BMW brass, is that for too long it has perhaps overemphasized the brand as the paragon of performance driving. BMW, indelibly etched in performance-car enthusiasts' psyches as "The Ultimate Driving Machine" in ads for 33 years, is showing a different plume of feathers in a new ad campaign, the first from its new U.S. ad agency GSD&M of Austin, Tex. Rather than horsepower andcurve-hugging handling, it's ballyhooing its design prowess and financial independence.

In one ad, for example, it asserts that BMW's designers and engineers answer only to BMW, while cheekily reminding readers that Volvo and Jaguar are owned by Ford (F), that Audi is but a unit of Volkswagen (the People's Car), and that its nemesis, Mercedes-Benz, is all merged up with -- gasp! -- Chrysler.COOL BUT INHUMAN? In another ad, it brazenly spotlights the rear end of its 7 Series flagship sedan, the very design element that was lampooned by journalists in 2001 when the car debuted. But since then, Toyota (TM) and even Mercedes have copied the so-called bustle-like "Bangle Butt," named for BMW chief designer Chris Bangle. The headline: "Not taking risks is risky." With pitches like these, theBavarian carmaker hopes to curry favor with the "creative class" in America that, the theory goes, values independent thinking and design and the kind of risk taking that watered-down, conglomerated companies can't afford.

Pitney says the brand's problem, if it has one, isn't showing up in sales yet, but that the challenge is obvious. "We're entering new product segments all the time, and wecan't afford to not be on the shopping lists of this many people," he says. About the new direction of the campaign, Pitney says the company isn't initiating a makeover. But there are dimensions of BMW's brand story that clearly need to be communicated better, he says. "People think we have a cool persona as a brand, but say we lack humanity," says Pitney. Call the campaign preventive maintenance,then, because BMW's 266,000 in sales last year was an all-time record.

The targeting of the creative class is an idea inspired by Richard Florida, a Carnegie-Mellon University professor who has written three books on this "class" of people, who include scientists, engineers, architects, educators, writers, artists, and entertainers. Their economic function is to create new ideas, newtechnology, and new creative content. Members of this group, which is about 38 million strong, share common characteristics, such as being driven in work and family by creativity, individuality, diversity, and merit.

THE NEED TO BE LIKED. "More than anything, they live by the power of ideas, and admire companies and people who champion creativity and ideas," says GSD&M president Roy Spence. Ironically,according to a ranking of U.S. cities by Florida, who consulted on the new BMW campaign, Austin is the No. 1 market for the creative class.

The tone in some of the ads reminds me of the dynamic played out in the hit British TV series The Office, in which the office manager is depicted comically as a man obsessed with being loved and not rocking the corporate boat. Corporations, say image andmarketing consultants, are driven more these days than in past years by the desire to be liked by customers as well as employees.

"There's an influential class of consumers, maybe it's the creative class, who make buying decisions based in part on how they feel toward a company and what it stands for," says Dennis Keene, an independent consultant who advises companies on marketing strategy. BMW,says Keene, has come a long way since the 1980s, "and has good stories to tell that could legitimately change some perceptions."

IDEAS ON A PEDESTAL. Unusual for BMW, several print and TV ads show and discuss BMW's Leipzig, Germany, plant, which was designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid. The factory is a design statement that includes a workspace for white-collar employees, whose...