BMW claims meaning for the brand


The new "enemy of ideas" spot for BMW captures corporate citizens we all of us know too well.  These are the people who like to say "no," the ones who resist, resent, and refuse innovation. 

In the BMW ad, they says things like "Let me play the devil’s advocate," or "With all due respect, but" and the ad has us understand that this is the language of obfuscation, and they are the agents of orthodoxy. 

In another spot called "euphemisms," we hear a corporate citizen say "You’ve presented some very challenging ideas" and the ad offers a translation: "I am scared of your thinking."  "Keep that idea in your back pocket" is translated as "Your idea is about to die a slow death."

Brilliant.  This is an important new cultural territory.  It is now clear just about everywhere in the corporate world that innovation is the new order of the day.  BusinessWeek has said we now have an innovation economy.  As culture and commerce change in this way, new meanings open up for the brand, and I was wondering when someone’s brand would step up to claim it.  It looked for awhile as if HP might make itself a special friend of dynamism, but that campaign seemed finally to lose its way. 

Now BMW has seized the opportunity: "at BMW ideas are everything and as an independent company, we make sure great ideas live on to become Ultimate Driving Machines."  Apparently, BMW means to make itself the "Company of Ideas."

The campaign is by GSD&M.  I don’t have the names of the creative team at GSD&M or at BMW, but good on ya, mates.  This is good work.  Let us hope that it does as much for the corporation as it does for the brand.  I will supply these if I can, but right now I have less than a minute to press time. 


Anonmymous.  2006. BMW Unveils New Advertising Campaign.  The Auto Channel.  May 8, 2006.  here.  

McCracken, Grant.  2005.  Death by Committee.  This Blog Sits At the.  April 6, 2005.  here.

9 thoughts on “BMW claims meaning for the brand

  1. Tom Guarriello

    After 20 years of consulting in corporations, I can honestly say that the kinds of phrases you quote from the BMW ad are clearly on the wane. New ideas still create anxiety, but blockers now need to be more subtle in their resistance. Eye-rolling still works, but it has to be done furtively, sort of like those of a weasel about to steal an egg from a chicken coop.

  2. Grant

    Tom, interesting, do you think that “the resistance” is smaller because the resisters changed or left? Thanks, Grant
    p.s., and I guess this raises an alarming question: where did they go?

  3. Tom Guarriello

    Some (fewer in number) are still there, but warier, as they’ve seen unlikely successes spawned by innovators. This scared them. They now huddle around the perimeter in meetings, unwilling to rush in to ridicule new ideas until they see things, hear things, or sniff odors, known only to them. god help the innovator if they do. It’s old school ugly then, like they’re making up for lost time with the ferocity of their “never thought…”s and “we felt all along…”s. But, they’re weakened, their ranks diminished by the modern day Four Horsemen of the Corporate Apocalypse: new viral strains of outsourcing, automating, downsizing and attrition.

    I think a couple of them may have landed cameos in the Lord of The Rings films.

  4. Grant

    Tom, thanks, this is cause for celebration. I mean, really, finally the trolls who found a way to turn the corporation into a way of protecting themselves from dynamism are being driven out. My guess is that they are probably now working for a local school board where they present themselves as “go to” guys and gals from the private sector who aren’t afraid to take a little risk. Thanks, Grant

  5. Andrew Hovells

    Thanks for flagging this up. Interesting since any reasearch group I’ve seen portrays BMW drivers as ’ememies of ideas’. I’d love to discover if they’re after a new type of driver, or if culture has forced them to encourage current drivers to re – classify themselves.

  6. Fouro

    Great observations! Sorry to be late to the game, but I think Andrew’s question is an interesting one. Compare BMW’s earliest Ammirati & Puris work to that of 2000+ of Fallon. Multiply it by BMW’s embrace of Crispin’s quirk for Mini, and their rejection of Crispin on BMWs main marque for the more “professional” (predictable?) GSD&M.

    BMW, like their late80s and 90s drivers, are having their mid-life crisis later in life perhaps. (Or perhaps, a redux.) The embrace of rebellion, but clothed in fashionable ideas. Or just visible attitude/cloth/metal. The sallying forth and stepping back seem all apiece with a wider cultural questioning by the VP+ set. No, I don’t want my dad’s olsmobile, but I just can’t do without his fuzzy dice.

    Andrew’s “Enemies of Ideas” evokes for me exactly the kinda “Give us different! …. Oooh, not THAT different” we’ve all experienced giving presentations to our erstwhile Boardroom Thoreaus. It’s a different herd, that’s all–Now, with new digital weathervane!

  7. steve

    Y’know, Mercedes would have benefited from some internal naysaying when the engineers got all jiggy about shoving zillions of new unreliable electronic components into their vehicles. Now their quality ratings are in the dumper.
    Similarly, BMW would have benefited from somebody telling them that i-Drive is a stupid interface. Now the damn thing is a laughingstock and a touchstone for crappy ergonomics.

    Innovation is a good thing, but critical thinking is part of it, not opposed to it. There will never be an algorithm that tells us when to give up on a new idea and when to keep pushing ahead. David Hume implied as much when he laid out the still-unsolved problem of induction. All we can do is try to manage the experimentation process optimally by engaging in low-cost tests where possible and plunging in with costly high-risk commitments only when the competitive environment justifies it.

  8. HoneoyeFallsmb

    This ad is fine if you feel like bashing the last bastions of dead thinking in corporate America. But what in the world does it have to do with selling cars? I thought BMW was trying to reach a younger, hipper audience, and who wants to look at these old tired re-treads? Why is this story line one that will inspire people to spend $80,000 on an amazing car? People buy these cars either because they want to look and feel important or they are left-brain types who just love the engineering. This ad does not tap into either of those emotional veins. Ads are important “cultural territory” only if they work in creating a new world view in which the product actually becomes more relevant and sells more units. I predict this campaign will die a slow painful death

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