Silenced E: BMW effort takes over Yahoo page

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BMW of North America set the bar for online films. Now it's turning Net advertising on its head.

As part of the estimated $60 million launch of its fifth-generation of its best-selling 3 Series, BMW inked a deal with Yahoo in which the letter "E" on Yahoo's home page will flip to become a 3. The effort was plotted by Jim McDowell, BMW's long-time VP-marketing, who last week moved to head up BMW sibling Mini USA. It will run for four days beginning May 5.

The alleged "typographical errors" on Yahoo's home page are aimed at catching people's attention, he said, but won't be intrusive because it will only be used enough to stand out-not on all the "Es." BMW is still talking to Yahoo about expanding it to other pages; BMW also plans 3 Series ads on other sites next month.

Visitors can hyperlink from Yahoo, which tallied 92 million unique visitors to its home page last month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, to the carmaker's site at bmwusa.com, which drew 600,000.

The 3 has iconic status, Mr. McDowell said. "All you have to do is say `three' and people know what you're talking about." He said the goal of the Yahoo effort is "to immediately get the word to millions of Americans that there's a new 3." This concept of "a disruptive 3 instead of E" will be used in all forms of media, including print and outdoor. But TV will be the biggest part of the buy and include national and spot broadcast and cable. Publicis Groupe's Fallon, Minneapolis, handles.

Wes Brown, analyst at auto consultancy Iceology, said, "BMW has been at the forefront of innovative, unconventional ways that support the buyer and the brand yet still are effective," dubbing BMW as "the most effective automaker in innovative marketing." Potential 3 Series buyers and current owners would know the car if only identified by "the new 3," said Mr. Brown.

RAISED THE BAR

Jim Sanfilippo, exec VP of Omnicom Group's auto consultant AMCI, called the 3 Series "the benchmark in the near-luxury market" and said BMW has raised the bar again with the 2006 model.

The automaker spent $1.7 million in online advertising last year vs. $1.1 million in 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence, a drop in the bucket compared to the $161 million TNS reports BMW spent in all measured media sans online. The automaker reported its best U.S. sales year in 2004, with 260,079 BMW-branded vehicles sold vs. 240,859 the prior year.

Tom Purves, chairman-CEO of BMW, called the 3 Series "the core of the BMW brand." He said the 3 Series accounts for 30% of BMW of North America's annual revenues and about 40% of its vehicle sales. The first 2006 3 Series models go on sale in May. The new 325i model starts at $30,995; the 330i at $36,995.

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