Nine months ago, Uwe Dreher left BMW’s Munich headquarters for New Jersey, where the 17-year veteran of the luxury automaker began overseeing U.S. marketing. The early returns are positive. Under his leadership, BMW last year beat German rival Mercedes-Benz to take the luxury sales crown in the U.S. with sales up 4 percent to 324,826 vehicles, according to Automotive News.
But with the coronavirus pandemic grinding the U.S. economy to a halt, BMW is seeking to maintain its momentum in a newly uncertain sales environment. The automaker has already canceled two experiential marketing events slated for March and April in Ohio and Washington, D.C., dubbed “Ultimate Driving Experience.” BMW has also delayed an ad campaign for its 8 Series vehicle from early April "until at least May," according to a spokesman, who said “all creative campaigns are under review at the moment.”
Before the coronavirus reached pandemic proportions, BMW had started rolling out a new logo designed for digital marketing communications. The biggest change is that the thick outer ring in the circular logo went from a solid black to transparent, a tweak that drew criticism from some design mavens.
Dreher, who took the U.S. post after working in BMW’s central marketing department in Munich, in a recent interview addressed that criticism. He also gave an early read on the potential fallout from the coronavirus and outlined how BMW plans to invest more in streaming TV. What follows has been lightly edited and condensed.
How is BMW dealing with the coronavirus pandemic? Are you canceling marketing activities?
We have an events calendar—events that we sponsor where somebody else runs the event and has to make a decision if they postpone or cancel. Then we have our own events, like our own driving events. Right now we’ve made some first decisions of trying to postpone. Sometimes we can do that, but sometimes when you rent a racetrack for a driving event, you don’t have availability later in the year. Luckily, the huge events, the big hitters—like a big golf tournament that is coming in summer—there is nothing that comes in April and May, which is good because we don’t have to make these decisions.
Lots of organizers are delaying marketing industry events until the fall. Cannes Lions has moved to October, for instance. Is it realistic for so much to happen in this condensed period?
If everybody cancels and postpones events for the next two months, and wants to push into the last quarter, then the last quarter gets busy—that is simple math. Not everybody will find an open spot. Then there are holidays. It will be a year of compromise. We also don’t know how long the whole situation with coronavirus will take place. I don’t hope it, but it could be we don’t run events for the next six months.
BMW had a great year in 2019 in the U.S., overtaking Mercedes-Benz to take the luxury sales crown. How will you keep the momentum going in 2020?
When it comes to 2020, to be honest we are quite optimistic. Yeah, we took the crown. When you look at the product portfolio, we are in very good shape. That was the case last year, but also when it comes to this year and the years to come. We have a lot of new cars that we introduced into the market last year. These launches go right into the heart of our target audience.
Will you be increasing marketing spending?
I don’t think it makes sense to throw more money into the marketplace to be successful. The strategy here at BMW North America is to spend the money wisely—especially when it comes to media. It’s not just about having the right marketing budget and push behind the campaign, it also needs to be relevant for the audience. You have to be unique, you have to be different, you have to stand out from the crowd, you have to have stopping power—because otherwise people will not recognize your communication.
Talk about your logo change.
When it comes to a world where most people, especially younger audiences, consume communication on a smartphone, then you don’t need a super complicated or complex logo anymore, which is very, very detailed and comes from a time 20 years ago where we were proud to have a complex logo. Now you have these little screens and this complexity has no benefit anymore. It even limits us sometimes. That is why we simplified the logo.
But the change drew some criticism.
When you touch your logo after 20 years, there are of course people who have an opinion on that. And to be honest that is absolutely alright. In this day and age, I even appreciate the dialogue. I would be surprised if we touched the logo after such a long time and everybody on this planet would say, ‘Yes that is beautiful, that is what it should be.’