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November 1st: Torsten Jacobi, CEO of Creative Weblogging, joins host Anita Campbell. Sponsored by Six Disciplines. Show details.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
BMW's Ad: No Respect
Editor's note: I am pleased to present another article by expert guest blogger, John Wyckoff. I actually moved his article up by a week on the schedule, because the topic is so timely. He examines a highly controversial new "advertisement movie" by BMW and gives his opinion on what it means for BMW's franchise motorcycle dealers.

By John Wyckoff

SEX SELLS! Can it go too far? I think it just did. Consider BMW's new Internet ad movie.

I've been writing for the powersports trade press for more than 30 years. During that time I've read letters to the editor from readers complaining about the use of scantily clad, well proportioned, young ladies often used to show off everything from motorcycles to boots and batteries. Those ads continue to appear in both the consumer and trade press, albeit in diminished quantity.

While attending trade shows over the years I've witnessed similar displays of obvious sex; some in good taste others not.

Of all the brands available to US buyers one would think the "macho" market bikes would feature more sexy women and "bad boys" -- not the upscale aristocrats of the motorcycle world like .

Let's take a look at reputations.
  • Kawasaki once produced an ad featuring spiked haired, inappropriately dressed guys with the performance bikes in a setting that could have come from any "war zone" in a big city.

  • Yamaha produced a video ad showing a bike accelerating wildly between rows of people then zooming in on chunks of burning rubber left in the bike's wake. Both ads were roundly criticized in the consumer press.

  • Harley-Davidson, on the other hand, has carefully avoided that image, while some of the custom bike makers have embraced it.
With the advent of the remote control on TVs and the TiVo, consumers have the option to bypass ads. Now, with the ability to stream video clips on computers and insert them in movie theaters to look like ads for coming flicks advertisers have the ability to entice viewers with edgy, longer than one-minute, ads disguised as trailers.

BMW, the German motorcycle and carmaker, up to now has had the reputation of being circumspect in their advertising. Perhaps that sometimes translated to boring. Their bikes and cars appeal to consumers interested in performance, engineering excellence and quality.

BMW is about to change all that. Some might call it "stretching the envelope." I call it unfortunate. The reputation of motorcyclists has always been complicated. It may be harmed and dealers and manufacturers may feel that harm alike.

BMW, whose sales in the United States have been slipping, is trying a new tactic. They have a six-minute film introducing their new K1200 R bike. To my knowledge the film is unlike anything this previously proper German company has ever produced.

I suspect they felt the impact of consumers hitting the mute button, turning the page in the magazine or otherwise ignoring their ads. That won't be the case with this new, over 6-minute offering. It contains bare breasted, exposed bottomed women. It also contains aggressive, graphic sex. It's dark, brooding and antisocial. That combination alone will assure its success in a world dominated by suicide bombers in Iraq and random killings on our highways.

I hate to go moralistic but I wonder if we've lost our sense of decency. Must we resort to over-the-top graphic ads that should have an "X" rating? More than that, I wonder if the powersports industry is going to accept BMW's point of view that we should become a bunch of sociopaths appealing to other sociopaths.

The AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) and the MIC (Motorcycle Industry Council) along with most of the OEMs have been trying to clean up the industry's reputation for years. They were actually making headway -- until now.

It is my hope that the AMA and the MIC weigh in on this debate.

This new BMW ad will, undoubtedly, attract viewers. Some for the thrill, some just to see how we might be at the doorway to a new base paradigm. Will it affect dealers and manufacturers other than BMW? I believe it will -- and not in a positive way.

The film depicts Muslims in a subliminal but negative way. It portrays low-life people as "cool." Not to mention the way it portrays women. I can imagine some current BMW owners being so offended by this video that they opt to ride a different brand.

I can hear the outrage of venting consumers encouraging, even demanding their dealer do something about it or suffer the consequences of a destroyed reputation. I suspect dealers will be questioned about how they feel about this new direction and what they are going to do about it.

This video is going to get attention. I just hope it doesn't become the new low-bar standard and lead the general public to think that respect (the title of BMW's flick) is one thing the motorcycle industry has lost.

Dealers, you can only hope that the mother of the young, potential bike buyer doesn't see BMW's newest offering.

(Editor's note: BMW's "Respect" video can be used to be found here. As of May 11, 2005 the video ad has now been taken down. The author's sources tell him that the ad will likely be available in Europe but not the U.S.

(UPDATE May 26, 2005: A sharp-eyed reader sent me a link to this website with the BMW "Respect" video, along with several other video clips of the machine. The Respect video is the second link from the top.)

* * * * *

Like this article? Read more by John Wyckoff. Get the full list of articles on our Experts directory.

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