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BMW and the changing face of car marketing

Posted by: Thomas Harrison-Lord on 13 October 2016

The Ultimate Driving Machine. As marketing and advertising slogans go, BMW’s perennial statement always hit the nail on the head. You bought a BMW over another German executive saloon because it was better to drive.

From a technical, nerdy, point of view, BMW’s are rear-wheel drive. This means the power from the engine goes to only the rear wheels and then the front wheels can ‘concentrate’ on only one task, that of steering. The result is (generally speaking) more enjoyable cornering, greater feedback and a feeling through your buttocks that the car is pivoting on its axis. Plus, if you are a big child and like to hoon, you can drift. It’s also why watching a BMW trying to drive in the snow is always something to point and laugh at. Or film and post to YouTube.

I have grown up with BMW cars being the epitome of driving fun. The tag-line ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ perfectly summed up to normal people, who aren’t as nerdy as me, that a BMW was better to drive than any other car. In just 4 words, they are actually explaining the nature of a rear-wheel drive car, without getting technical. You pay a premium price for a better experience. In addition, the rear-wheel drive nature of a BMW always led to critics in magazines praising their cars from a dynamic standpoint, and at times, winning a comparison test because fun was a deciding factor for motoring journalists.

BMW Driving Fun

But in current times, safety, economy and technology have a far bigger say in purchasing decisions. All of these purchasing elements can be achieved without being ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’. Do people buy cars anymore to enjoy driving, or to simply provide transport that happens to look nice, offer phone connectivity for the journey to work and safety for when the family are on board?

There are increasing numbers of extreme performance cars, such as the BMW M4 GTS. These are expensive, low volume, and aimed at the performance driver. Fellow enthusiast drivers like myself are being pigeonholed into rare, expensive, limited editions such as this, while the ‘normal’ versions of the car are becoming increasingly numb to drive. Sadly, it goes almost without saying, that an M4 GTS is out of my price range.

This all leads me car advertising and messaging. A prime example is the current Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The promotional video for this vehicle is simply rolling footage of the car being driven at night and then a finance deal slapped on the screen. There’s some Dad-trying-to-be-cool music and that’s it. The advert doesn’t say how fast the car is, how good to drive it is, or what it feels like to own. Just a car driving at night and a price. One of the most lacklustre, boring and plain adverts I’ve ever seen for a car. Yet, so far in 2016, the C-Class is the 9th best selling car in the UK. The message clearly works.

BMW M4

All this makes me very sad. A car is designed to be driven, why not own one that is particularly good to drive? I’m now suddenly very old fashioned in my tastes. But then, whilst perusing the internet, a BMW video advert appeared and all is well in the world again.

You see, you can now buy BMWs with four-wheel drive, or ‘xDrive’ as they brand it, analogous to the famous Audi Quattro system. Now, a four-wheel drive BMW still upsets the purist within me, much like the BMW people carrier does, but the message used to promote the option takes me back to the good old days. “Remember when everything you did was for the sheer pleasure of doing it?” YES BMW! That’s what I’m talking about!

Not only are BMW throwing me back to the days of having fun when driving a car, they are using a retro song too. When was the last time you heard Blur – Song 2 used in a marketing campaign? So, while I truly believe that we are on the edge of automotive change, where cars will be sold on how much range they can manage on a single charge, rather than how much fun you can have on the B6451 just outside Otley, at least BMW are delaying that marketing message transition for a little while longer. Thank you.

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