Visitors Brake for BMW Web ShortsFour short rich media films on BMWFilms.com have already accomplished BMW executives' marketing goals and cost less than a traditional ad campaign -- including broadcast, print and traditional Web efforts -- despite an estimated $2 million cost per film.
"We've already had more people come than we thought would come over the entire period of films," said Jim McDowell, BMW's vice president of marketing.
"We spent a lot of money on the actual production but a little money distributing it," he said. "We wouldn't have done it if it would have cost more than a traditional campaign."
The campaign peaked the week of May 27 when 214,000 visitors viewed the six-minute streaming media movies, directed by Ang Lee and other top film directors, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. The site had 138,000 unique visitors the previous week.
The first film was introduced in mid-May, and a fifth film will be released on the site in mid-July.
"We actually received many more visitors than we originally estimated," said Bruce Bildsten, associate creative director at Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis, which developed the campaign for BMW. The amount of time visitors spent on the site also was greater than anticipated.
More than 68 percent of the visitors were male, about 40 percent earn at least $75,000 a year, and more than half have broadband access, Nielsen//NetRatings reported.
"Since the majority of broadband surfers fall into income brackets of $75,000 and higher, BMW zeroes in on their target market," said Jarvis Mak, senior analyst at Nielsen//NetRatings.
Many BMWFilm visitors were directed from a link on BMW North America's home page, bmwusa.com. Movie trailers on TV and in theaters in late May, ads in the entertainment sections of local newspapers, and articles in Time magazine and Entertainment Weekly also generated interest.
The films' plots center on a driver, played by Clive Owen, and car chases. Each short has a unique stamp -- some serious and some humorous -- and a unique plot, thanks to the free reign allotted to the directors. One film, a spoof directed by Guy Ritchie, stars Madonna as a spoiled star. She is subsequently thrown from the car. (Payment for her work was a BMW, according to one published report.)
Visitors also can choose to view subplots, with phone numbers and e-mail links embedded within each film. For instance, in the subplot of the second film, "Chosen," a link to a Web page detailing the main character's fictional dossier is provided. In the third film, "The Follow," the site hints to viewers that "someone" will be at Madison and 23rd Street in New York on Aug. 23. "We are actually planting an actor there and will see how many people come to meet him," Bildsten said.
The site is more of an entertainment vehicle than a sales tool. In fact, a character in one of the films crashes, wrecking a BMW. Still, under an obscure heading titled "Machine," visitors can find out more about the BMW cars featured, including the 2001 M5 and X5.
"BMWFilms.com is a good example of the blurring lines between entertainment and advertising. People are not feeling that they are being sold the car. They feel like they're being sold content," Nielsen//NetRatings' Mak said.
The idea came about a year ago when Fallon was looking for a completely different type of campaign for BMW.
"We had done some nice commercials, but our style of advertising had been copied by other automakers," Bildsten said. "We were looking for something new, and TV isn't the best way to reach the BMW customers. They tend to be very busy and live life to the fullest."
In addition, 85 percent of BMW buyers researched their purchase online before they bought offline in 2000, Bildsten said.
"BMW customers are a very tech-savvy audience and young at heart. They are more advanced and experimental online," Bildsten said.
Although other sites have promoted short films, Fallon set out to provide something "a lot bigger with more Hollywood names." When executive producer David Fincher came on board, he transformed the concept from a continuing series, such as a TV series, to self-contained shorts available on the site at any time.
"We made a deliberate effort to make each one different. That is more appealing for a Web audience that might come in [to the promotion] halfway," Fincher said.
Because 50 percent of visitors to BMWFilms have broadband access, the creative team knew that rich media would work. What's more, site users can download a proprietary BMW Interactive Film Player, which promises full-screen, DVD-like quality.
However, for those who do not want to, or are unable to, download the player, the site offers three rich streaming media players -- RealPlayer, Windows Media and QuickTime -- at three connection speeds.
"We have a very high percentage of people coming in at high-speed connections, but we wanted to offer as many options as we could to ensure the best experience possible," Bildsten said.
Through the site, BMW has built a new e-mail list by offering visitors the option of receiving e-mails on upcoming films. McDowell declined to reveal how many visitors opted in.
However, McDowell said BMW learned to stagger e-mails on future promotions, after an e-mail announcing the release of the Ang Lee-directed short caused the site to become sluggish. "Since then, we don't send all of our e-mails on the day the film starts," McDowell said.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that the films have already enhanced the automaker's relationships with customers, he added.
"People who like it really love it," he said. "It's giving them a different insight into BMW."