In the past week, you may have noticed a headline which proclaimed the return of BMW Films. Maybe one of those headlines was crafted in a manner which left you with no choice but to click through because of your superficial curiosity. Clickbait. Buzzfeed mastered it and what you see in the H1 tag above is my beta attempt at the art.
I’m hoping that you obtain some kind of value having clicked on this headline as that would technically exclude my headline from the title of clickbait. At least the negative connotation of the term which describes a headline which promises a value which is not met by the content which follows. Overselling only to under-deliver. A trick.
This post is not a trick. BMW really did write the script for branded content 15 years ago. At the least, they wrote the script for what we understand branded content to be in our digital age.
In 2001, I was a Grade 5 student at Blairgowrie Primary School and only got access to a Siemens C35 because my mother was Brand Manager at Vodacom at the time. I felt hip, but the device was mostly an accessory in a time where hardly anyone I knew had a cellphone. Cell C hadn’t come to exist yet, much like YouTube and Clive Owen’s international acting career.
This was the scenario in which BMW decided to launch The Hire series.
The Hire was a series of short-films commissioned by BMW. The first episode in the series premiered 26 April 2001 on the BMW Films website. 8 episodes, 100 millions views, 1 Cannes Award, a 12 percent increase in sales and 15 years later; the luxury car brand is reviving the series.
For this latest edition titled, The Escape, South African born Neill Blomkamp was on director duty with Clive Owen reprising his role starring alongside Dakota Fanning, Jon Bernthal and Vera Farmiga. At the time of writing, the 13-minute film had garnered just over 2.5 million views on YouTube and it remains to be seen whether the content will reach the same heights it did when branded content was novelty.
What was it about the campaign made it such a resounding success? What was in the BMW manuscript which can be applied to branded content today?
People buy stories
Seth Godin said, “People don’t buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.” With The Hire series, BMW weren’t selling ABS brakes, the V8 engine or their products ability to accelerate from 0 – 100 in a couple of seconds – at least not blatantly.
The Hire told a story and the story in itself promoted the performance of the vehicle without telling you about any of its features. The story wasn’t BMW. BMW was a part of the story. The story preceded selling.
Consumers are more complex than they have ever been with countless options available to meet their varied needs. If you focus your differentiation efforts purely on one of the 4P’s you are bound to fail. The Hire sold a lifestyle. It sold an experience which is maybe the reason some BMW drivers think they are bad asses who have no idea where the indicator lever is located.
Budget? What budget?
There is still a ‘hard, risky and complicated’ association with branded content. Especially the influencer or creator collaboration type of branded content. This sees some branded content campaigns only getting the experimental 10% allocation of the total marketing budget if any at all.
BMW broke the bank to put together The Hire series. In fact, the expensive nature of the series was the reason they eventually stopped it. At a time where internet advertising was not the behemoth it has become today, BMW took a massive financial risk which paid off.
You have to understand that you need to work with talented people in order to create great branded content and that talented people are expensive but valuable.
Talent trumps reach
When considering the team to bring their vision to life, BMW never considered reach or engagement. It was probably because those terms didn’t mean what they meant now, but BMW weren’t so much concerned with popularity as they were with talent. They overlooked Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise (who were wildly popular at the time) to cast Clive Owen who was mostly unknown to the American audience.
BMW enlisted some of the most talented craftsmen in the film industry collaborating with the likes of John Woo, Ang Lee and Guy Ritchie to create the short films. These weren’t 30 second adverts so they hired individuals who understood the medium of film best to bring their vision to life. In fact, the individuals they hired had such a great understanding of telling stories using the medium that BMW gave them full creative control over films.
When considering collaborating on a branded campaign, examine closely the individuals talent and understanding of storytelling on the medium you’d like use. More often than not, those with the talent will have good reach and engagement.
Provide value before a transaction is made
The attention economy of our digital age has created a picky consumer. So much so that clickbait is widely used to get consumers picking (clicking) on content. In the same way a colleague has since convinced me that Buzzfeed does have content which provides more value than knowing which Harry Potter character I am, I’m hoping this post delivers on the promise the headline offered.
A consumer’s desire for content can be described by three general outcomes: Entertainment, education or inspiration. Any great piece of content can be categorised into one of these outcomes and it’s important to consider this at the outset of any branded content.
In the case of consuming The Hire content, the primary outcome for the consumer was entertainment. BMW gave consumers value before any kind of transaction was made.
Using this script, BMW created a branded content series which was so good it spawned an actual movie franchise in The Transporter. The lesson here is to be prepared to pay to collaborate with storytellers who know what audiences value.
It’s easy to reach 100 000 individuals, what’s difficult is influencing those individuals emotions and behaviours – and only good stories can achieve that. Just look at Red Bull: “The publishing company that also happens to sell a beverage.”