Was BMW's Viral Marketing Stunt Really That Risky to the Brand?
We've spent many instances of clicking "publish" discussing viral marketing or, as it's known in some circles where buzzwords don't annoy, "murketing." From Levi's uploading a video to YouTube featuring young people jumping into pants to LG's not-exactly-secret-but-very-creepy spot for its Secret phone, the trend of paying very little for a video spot that reaches a much wider audience than a TV spot ever could is a growing one.
Auto maker BMW and its agency GSD&M understood this quite well, which is why they spent a few bucks on a five-day shoot to produce a half-hour mockumentary, in the style of This Is Spinal Tap, about a Bavarian's town attempt to launch a new BMW 1 Series, via ramp, from Germany to the United States.
When the clips began popping up in February, it wasn't long before most everybody called bullshit on them, and linked the spots, part of a campaign called "Rampenfest," to BMW. The car company, however, refused to acknowledge it was behind the project. More so, they even went the additional step and "created a Web site for the fictional events planner, Franz Brendl, and the fictional Bavarian town of Oberpfaffelbachen. Several characters, including the faux film maker, got their own Facebook profiles."
Now, the Wall Street Journal issued a postmortem on the stunt, which argues BMW could've faced significant backlash for its unconventional – though, these days, all too conventional – attempt at reaching younger consumers, by refusing to own the spots when they were found out.
But the problem wasn't that BMW didn't take credit for its viral marketing campaign; it's that BMW didn't acknowledge a viral marketing campaign that was so obviously paid for and produced by the car maker, only somebody missing his right ventromedial prefrontal cortex wouldn't have figured it out. And the savvy consumer who bothered to follow the stunt and invest so much energy in the project didn't like being treated that way.