BMW's New 'Big Idea' Ads Aren't

Why First TV Effort from GSD&M Agency Is Terrible

By Published on .

"When I was first asked to speak here today ..."

If you're ever in an audience, and you hear those words from the podium, immediately fake a coughing jag and get out of the room. Hurry. The next 30 minutes are going to be deadly.

You can also feel pretty comfortable skipping past newspaper and magazine guest columns that begin like so: "In writing this article ..."

Amateurs at work
Self-consciousness is not only a warning sign of amateurs at work, it's also a very good indicator of nothing much to say. If the writer is referencing the process of formulating ideas, instead of the ideas themselves, you can pretty much bet there is no underlying idea to reference.

Sadly, and ironically, this is precisely the case with the introductory BMW campaign from GSD&M, Austin, Texas. It's sad because this is the agency's debut for this marquee client. And it's ironic because the new campaign's theme is "Company of ideas."

"Beware of the Benedict Arnold," says the voice-over in one spot, as we see grotesque black-and-white fish-eye-lens views of spineless executives sporting toothy, insincere grins. "He is behind your idea before the meeting. He even high-fives you and pats you on the back. But the second the idea meets the least resistance, the Benedict Arnold flops like a pancake."

'Ultimate Driving Machines'
Then the scene changes to a BMW factory. The lens is now flat, the pictures in color: "At BMW, ideas are everything. And, as an independent company, we make sure that great ideas live on to become Ultimate Driving Machines."

Really? Which ideas? Name three. For crying out loud, name one.

But, no, the spot doesn't. Nor does the next, which portrays another set of central-casting fat cats as they strangle inspiration aborning.

EXEC 1: "You've presented some very challenging ideas."

VOICE-OVER: "Translation: I'm scared of your thinking."

EXEC 2: "I don't mean to be a fly in the ointment."

VOICE-OVER: "Translation: Your idea is about to die a slow, miserable death."

'Idea Killers'
Same deal with the third spot, about "the Idea Killers." It's not just that it's a cliche; it's a 45-year-old cliche, a bunch of Rat Race blowhards straight out of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" or every Tony Randall movie ever made. But never mind how familiar it is. The crime is how irrelevant it all is.

The campaign purports to celebrate BMW's extraordinary open-mindedness to innovation. Yet the spots display not one single item of evidence. What they do display -- in their copy and the characterization of upper-management stiffs -- is the frustration of advertising creatives who feel their own genius stifled by craven, clueless clients. The empty suits are displayed here as generic business-decision makers, but make no mistake: This is advertising transparently inspired by the difficulty of getting a campaign sold.

Is it really so hard to say something trenchant about the Ultimate Driving Machine that the advertising must resort to whining about the creative process? And therein more irony: The creatives' implicit self-regard for their own cunning is belied by the advertising itself, which -- in case this isn't by now altogether clear -- is terrible.

Generalizations minus revealing detail
The one promising element -- references to BMW's independence vs. Mercedes' DaimlerChrysler entanglements and all things Ford and GM -- is nowhere paid off. Maybe such independence matters, but in the TV work and in print as well, it's all generalizations minus any revealing detail.

Look, we read "Dilbert." We know corporate bureaucracy is soul-deadening. But to see this advertising, we don't see BMW as the heroic exception. Not to be a fly in the ointment, but all we see is an idea that should have been killed.

~ ~ ~
Review: 1.5 stars
Advertiser: BMW
Agency: GSD&M
Location: Austin, Texas
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