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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.

Comments (5)
No. 1 · John P. Kreiss

This is an interesting article. Why do companies feel the need to be deceptive when marketing? Most consumers are pretty smart and these types of practices usually backfire and turn people off.

What's wrong with good old-fashioned honesty?

John P. Kreiss
President & CEO
MorganSullivan, Inc.

Posted: Jun 23, 2008 at 1:16 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 2 · Girad

I think the campaign was innovative, and should have made you think about the car, talk about the car, talk about BMW. And since that is what we are doing, I think it worked. The car's merits hold up on its own and this was a fun way to bring attention to a great (but slightly overpricd car). I think that BMW hit its core target audience, people who love cars, and would be interested in the video. But hey, what do I know?

Posted: Jun 25, 2008 at 2:22 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 3 · Franz BRendl

How diz you not knows i was fake? I had fake teeths for goodness sakes!!!

Posted: Jun 27, 2008 at 2:29 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 4 · Steve McGrath

Nice piece overall, but as I blogged (link below), I couldn't find all the hatas on teh Internet who complained about the supposed deception. Could this be nothing more than a (New) media dust-up? And Franz, I hope to see more of you on the screen. You stole the movie, so I posted your pic:;thumbs-up

Posted: Jul 3, 2008 at 3:22 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
No. 5 · Viral Marketing

It seems a bit obvious to me, like the bear fight. It didn't seem to be intentionally deceptive to me at all, unless of course you thought those were real teeth. :D

Posted: Jul 9, 2008 at 3:38 pm · @Reply · [Flag?]
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