BMW DRIVER TOUR HYPES NEW 3-SERIES: EVENTS MORE EFFICIENT THAN MEDIA, AUTOMAKER SAYS

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BMW of North America rolls out an instructional driving and educational tour next month as the cornerstone to the pre-launch of its 1999 3-Series line.

Direct mail goes out this week for the first event, at Arlington International Racecourse in suburban Chicago starting July 18. The Ultimate Driving Experience will travel to six cities.

The tour is a way to woo prospects more cost efficiently than traditional media, said Jim McDowell, VP-marketing at BMW.

"Every year we are looking for ways to more effectively deploy our resources," he said. "We are focusing our resources on programs that . . . get people behind the wheel of our cars."

WILL STILL HAVE ADS

BMW won't eliminate mass media; the entry-level 3-Series will get an estimated $35 million ad push starting in September, via Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis.

Mr. McDowell declined to reveal the cost of the tour, describing it only as a big investment. "We had to stop many other sponsorships to afford this," he said.

BMW dropped out of golf and tennis events, where its cars were merely displayed.

"What they're doing is an easy way to spend over $3 million and it could cost as much as $5 million," said James Hall, VP-industry analysis at AutoPacific. "Television is a good way to keep awareness up; it does not sell the car."

As many as 50,000 people are expected to participate in the BMW program. The main target is prospects, although owners nearing the end of their leases are targeted as well.

High school students and their parents will be invited to special weekend programs teaching driver safety. Inviting teens is a good way to build aspiration for BMW, Mr. Hall said.

Ritta & Associates, Englewood, N.J., is handling creative and Advantage International, Stamford, Conn., is overseeing the program.

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