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Thursday, January 20, 2011

BMW Bypasses TV To Promote New Electric Car

Usually, when automakers introduce new models, they opt for a 30-second TV spot. But to promote its ActiveE electric car, BMW is employing online documentaries that run between 4 and 10 minutes instead.

The idea, says Rich Steinberg, manager of electric vehicle operations and strategy for BMW North America, is to reach thought leaders who might be interested in the topic and will want to share their thoughts about the model via social media. “Our intent was to get some people in the space to join us, to talk about their view of mobility and the future of cities,” says Steinberg.

That’s the topic of four films BMW plans to roll out next month. (The company launched a trailer promoting the films today.) The docs, created by ad agency Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, feature such thought leaders as Blade Runner designer Syd Mead, Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of location services, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin, among others, talking about their view of mobility in the cities of the future.

The ActiveE, which rolls out this summer, is BMW’s second electric car. The first, the Mini E, launched in June 2009 in the U.S. to 450 “motoring pioneers.” Like that vehicle, the ActiveE can only be leased, not bought.

Though other electric vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf, have received traditional advertising support, companies like GE and IBM have used online documentaries to attempt to convey more complex ideas than a 30-second TV spot can accommodate. “This is complicated dialog that’s a good fit for social media,” says Marian Hawryluk, electric vehicle project manager for BMW North America.

This isn’t the first time that BMW has experimented with long-form advertising. In 2001, the brand introduced BMW Films, a series of star-studded mini-movies by Guy Ritchie, Wong Kar-Wai and other directors that featured BMWs but didn’t include any overt pitches for the vehicles.

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