BMW & Joy: “Danger Will Robinson”

It has a feeling of inevitability attached to it, but still, I can’t help but feel let down.  For years many of us have held up BMW as the example of a car company that understands its brand and sticks to it. That all just changed. BMW is no longer the manufacturer of The Ultimate Driving Machine, according to this commercial “at BMW, we don’t just make cars, we make joy.”:

The longest running and probably best known automotive industry positioning line has been thrown in the bin in favor of “Joy.”  I’m conflicted. On one hand, I’m shocked and I really believe that BMW has made a horrific mistake, but on the other hand, there are aspects of this new campaign that I like.

“The new “Joy” campaign ‘is a big departure for us,’ said Jack Pitney, vice president of marketing for BMW North America. ‘We hope to really add some humanity to our brand’ and show the diversity of its buyers,”Wall Street Journal 2/15/10

In fact, what I like about the commercial is the humanity.  It’s fun to watch people enjoying life in and around their BMWs.  To see enthusiast communities enjoying their passions together.  To see all kinds of people, some even like me, joined together by a common bond created by a car.  It is truly what makes great automotive brands great, that sense of being part of something bigger than you are.

What I hate about this new campaign is that they walked away from “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”  Admittedly, BMW didn’t quite say they were walking away and they left the door open to bring it back.  What I can’t understand is why walk away from “The Ultimate Driving Machine” at all.  If they wanted to add humanity, add it, but keep the long standing tag-line, there is enormous equity in it and nothing that I see in any of the recent “Joy” advertising conflicts with it.  The Ultimate Driving Machine is a core equity of the BMW brand.

The other aspect that I find wrong-minded is this idea that “at BMW we don’t just make cars, we make joy.”  I’m willing to give BMW credit for making “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” after all it is a car company with a storied performance pedigree, but you overstep when you say you “make joy” (can’t you hear the strategy wonks saying that “joy” is higher in the benefit hierarchy?).  You don’t, you make fine automobiles, the joy comes from the people who bring your products into their lives. Are we to assume that our lives will be without joy or somehow less joyous if we don’t drive a BMW?

Saying you “make joy” seems a little like saying you’re funny, you either are or you aren’t and everyone around you knows which it is. BMW doesn’t make Joy, it makes The Ultimate Driving Machine and that should have been more than enough.

In its quest to be “more,” BMW will inevitably become less.  Too bad, I thought they were the one automotive company that truly understood its brand.

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2 Responses to “BMW & Joy: “Danger Will Robinson””

  1. Cam,

    You’re spot on with this one. I was going to write about this myself. Huge mistake moving up to an undifferentiated emotional benefit. “The Ultimate Driving Machine” gave them purpose. It also transferred a badge of competence to their owners… “If own the ultimate driving machine, I must be an ultimate driver.”

    The fact is, there’s joy in owning any car. And thus, BMW as we have known and loved it, is dead.

  2. Barry Silverstein says:

    I have to agree Cam,

    I am not a BMW owner or car enthusiast, but I always admired BMW for their cars and the passion they elicit from their owners. This campaign feels defensive to me and must be an attempt to broaden their users beyond their core enthusiasts. While I understand that strategy, for BMW to try to own “joy” seems just weird.
    In addition, Audi is coming at them with directly competitive ads that I believe will have impact.
    BMW feels like a brand that is struggling to figure a way to deal with declining sales in recessionary times. I think they’ve gone off course.

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