BMW shows its resilience, extends event marketing

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Jim McDowell isn't exactly gloating about BMW `s high-performance sales during the recession. But his optimistic tone speaks volumes as the luxury automaker turns up the heat, despite a cranky economy.

"Last year was our best year. We're predicting strong sales this year and an even better `03. We're seeing strong response to the heart of the product line," says the VP-marketing for BMW of North America.

"I'm not going to tell the percentage that goes to our media partners," he says. "But we're one of the only marketing groups [in the auto industry] that didn't cut back after Sept. 11. And we're going full-steam ahead this year." BMW had record U.S. sales in 2001 of 213,127 vehicles, up 12.5% from 2000 and making BMW the No. 2 U.S. luxury brand behind the Lexus Division of Toyota Motor Sales USA.

BMW's marketing secret? "We change before the market forces us to change," says Mr. McDowell, who has been with the automaker for nine years.

He indicates this year will see a slight increase in ad spending. A refined 7 Series now available and a Z3 roadster line to be released in late fall as a 2003 model will grab most of the limelight.

"This year, we will put most of our investment into the 7 Series and traditional communications. Late in the year, we will have more event marketing," says Mr. McDowell. "You'll see lots of exposure for the 7 Series. We're big on cable TV buys and high-quality magazines."

To build momentum, BMW began by kicking the 7 Series into high gear in February. The luxury automaker poured an estimated $15 million into national TV exposure, spotlighting the line in the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies on General Electric Co.'s NBC. Then in late February, BMW ran advertising in The Wall Street Journal to pique spring sales.

More 7 Series print ads from Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis, are planned for national magazines and newspapers. BMW bought front-cover positions in the March issues of various magazines.

Using an "Ultimate driving" tag, the 7 Series' campaign theme is "A new perspective on driving." That perspective starts at nearly $70,000.

Event marketing also has a spot in the BMW marketing arsenal with golf and skiing programs. The "Ultimate Drive" for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation runs April 25 through Oct. 29. Guests get to test-drive vehicles of their choice at BMW dealerships and other sites. For every mile driven, BMW donates $1 to the foundation.

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