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BMW Chooses Texas-based GSD&M As Its New Ad Agency

Posted by: David Kiley on November 14, 2005


BMW North America selected GSD&M, Austin Texas as its new advertising agency and guardian of its more than 30-year old “Ultimate Driving Machine” positioning.

It is coup for the Texas agency as the BMW account, while not the largest account in the auto sector, is one of the most prestigious and sought after. BMW spends about $160 million on advertising per year.

GSD&M, Austin is an agency best known for its work for Southwest Airlines, Walmart, Krispy Kreme, The US Air Force and AARP. The agency’s CEO, Roy Spence, is known for being one of the more charismatic ad men in the business, and has done work for Democratic Party campaigns and candidates, including former President Bill Clinton. It’s said that if he worked in New York, he might have a daily TV show on CNBC instead of New York ad man Donny Deutsch. GSD&M had previously handled Land Rover advertising.

BMW decided to review its advertising account last summer after Jack Pitney took over as head of marketing after a successful run as head of BMW’s MINI USA unit. But Pitney was taken aback when ad agency Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis refused to participate after handling the business for a decade. BMW whittled the contenders down to GSD&M of Austin, Tex, KB+P of New York, The Martin Agency of Richmond, Va and Anomaly of New York. Last Friday, it narrowed the search to GSD&M and KB+P, and have spent the last week seeing which agency offered the best compensation package. BMW has been in cost cutting mode, so price is a factor.

BMW is a brand far from being in trouble. It has rising sales—it’s well ahead of rival Mercedes-Benz and U.S. domestic Cadillac, trailing only the Lexus brand—and well received new products. It seems to be over the hiccup it experienced in 2001-02 when it launched its all-new 7 Series to catcalls and brickbats for what many deemed an ugly rear-end and impossibly balky in-cabin electronics system that it made it an adventure in driver distraction to find a radio station. But the company is still feeling skittish about an image too heavily steeped in “performance” at a time when consumers seem to be looking for brands that stand for larger values. Consider these passages from BMW’s confidential brief to the agencies competing for the business obtained by Business Week:

“BMW wants to bring the excitement back to the brand and restore the equilibrium between their products and their marketing communications. Remember, your challenge is not to reinvent the brand but to evolve the marketing from its current one-dimensional focus on performance…

Ideally, this new platform will be sustainable over time, yet offer the flexibility to encompass not only where the company is currently headed—but where they might be headed in the future given the unpredictable nature of the automotive business. Think alternative fuel sources and growing sales volume with a successful but polarizing brand. In essence, redefine performance so that it is more than windy roads with fast music….How can BMW expand the current customer base? How do you get the people who admire BMW, who possess BMW values, who possess the BMW gene—but don’t place BMW on their shopping list—to place BMW in their consideration set? In sum, how do you get them to want something they don’t consciously want to own? How do you arouse that latent desire? In addition, how will you convince those who purposely choose not to buy BMW because they think the brand is “too cold,” “not luxurious,” or “not relevant”?

That seems a pretty good snapshot of how BMW as a company currently assesses its brand. But, unlike a lot of companies looking to change their stipes a bit, they have rising sales and strong and defined brand image from which to work. In many ways, that makes the job of the new agency tougher. If the brand was on fire, a new ad agency would be free to make wholesale changes. This is more like being asked to consult with Martha Stewart about how to redecorate her house.

Ad agencies clamor for car accounts, because they traditionally signal a turning point for the firm. More than toothpaste or department store accounts, they are businesses that a whole agency can rally around. They can also be accounts, with many demands and pressures, that can eat up agencies. BMW in the early 1990s gave its business to The Mullen Agency, a smallish Wenham, Mass. Agency, which held onto it for only a short time after failing to create compelling creative, and was hobbled for years by the experience.

Since many BMW bigwigs and dealers were unhappy the review resulted in Fallon, which had among other things created the successful BMWFilms series, taking a walk, the pressure on GSD&M to produce good work fast will be as heavy as Martha watching a decorator remake her personal lair.

Reader Comments

carol raisfeld

December 13, 2006 6:37 PM

The newest BMW ad for Christmas is the most irritating in history. To have out-of-control screaming come into my home is a horribe invasion and I try to avoid any programs that use it. It's nerve racking and children start screaming to emulate the little out of control animals that are on screen. It's beyond disturbing to think it appeals to anyone over 5 years old. Oh, I'll remember the commercial and I'll also remember NOT to buy a BMW. How can the car be well made if they can't even choose a well made, clever commercial. This one is brutal.


December 17, 2006 4:31 PM

Thank you for the above comment.......this commercial is the MOST IRRITATING, ANNOYING and just plain MORONIC ad to come from BMW. If there was ever any hopes for me to buy this car or any car from BMW......they have been shattered by this utterly STUPID commercial!!!


December 18, 2006 10:39 PM

BMW ad campaign has reached the depths of ugliness. I wouldn't consider buying a BMW after witnessing those disgusting, pretentious, self absorbed & petty & most of all IRRITATING kids. This has to be the worst marketing ad campaign ever witnessed and the entire department responsible should be FIRED for putting out the worst commercial of all times!!


December 19, 2006 1:09 PM

I think its a great commercial. It reminds you how great and simple christmas was as a kid. If you don't like it, turn down your volume. Its just a commercial, how is it a "horrible invasion"?? There are plenty worse songs and jingle on commercial I would rather not hear. (Maybe you need to buy a tv with a mute button on it)


December 19, 2006 5:58 PM

The worst commercial in history. I would never buy a bmw because of it. Everyone i know hates it, as obnoxious greedy little kids scream into the air.

Sandra Besler

December 20, 2006 8:40 PM

I can't believe BMW's execs would approve it's latest "screaming child" ad. Being in advertising for 25 years myself, I DO understand you want to capture everyone's attention, but c'mon. You've done incredible damage to the highly respected BMW name. Just what audience are you trying to capture - morons?? Every time this "screaming child" ad appears, it is immediately turned off. This is done not only in our household, but also in the households of many of our friends & family. We all feel you owe the public an apology. Your commercial is truly the most obnoxious we've ever seen - by far!! Your ad agency's "creative" department should be fired.


December 21, 2006 12:42 AM

The current BMW advertising campaign with the screaming children is stupid and extremely irritating. When it comes on we immediately mute the audio. Nothing I can think of would steer me away from a BMW showroom more than a TV ad like this one. GET IT OFF THE AIR!!


December 21, 2006 12:51 AM

If I were the CEO of BMW I would immediately fire the advertising agency that aired this commercial. Nothing will drive prospective buyers away quicker than the obnoxious ad that is currently appearing on TV. Anyone who would enjoy such a presentation has a few screws loose in the cranium and certainly would be unable to handle a "driving machine" such as BMW describes their vehicle.

Jean Sandhu

December 21, 2006 5:25 PM

I love the COMMERCIAL !!! I can tell you one thing if someone gave me a NEW BMW for Xmas
Keep up the Good Work the COMMERCIAL WAS GREAT !!!

Loved your interview on KGO Radio Today

Jan Hughes

December 22, 2006 8:43 AM

This commercial is probably the worst I have ever seen on TV - it is upsetting to the senses in every way! This is not what the Christmas season is about and I think BMW should take this ad off immediately and relook at what it is trying to achieve with its ads - I can't imagine anyone wanting to buy one of their vehicles after experiencing the irritation of this ad!


December 23, 2006 3:17 PM

This commercial makes me want to cry and give up Christmas forever. It is .... just grotesque.


December 23, 2006 8:02 PM

After having to listen to the current BMW extremely irritating tv add ever run , I will never, ever consider a BMW purchase!

J. E.


December 23, 2006 11:25 PM

I'm in the advertising side a bit. Every time we see this ad with spoiled crazed kids with the implication they will buy a BMW. . .it drives everyone in the office nuts and gives everyone more more reason NOT to buy a BMW


December 26, 2006 5:44 PM

Today, Dec. 26 at about 5:15 P.M., that fingernails-on-the-blackboard commercial came on and I reached for my mute button, as usual. Surprise! The commercial now has the warm and and fuzzy "Remember when..." voice-over on the screaming, so that only the final few seconds with the kids high-fiving remain audible. Thanks, BMW, but please tell us: Who in the world conceived the original? The CEO's unemployed nephew or something?

David E Knoop

December 26, 2006 6:15 PM

Thank you for silencing those kids!

David E Knoop MD


December 26, 2006 8:23 PM

if bmw chooses to be affilated with spoiled, shelfish, self centered lifestyle, as shown in this disastrous ad, then bmw is not for me. I wil stick with acura. They have sinced changed the voiceover to mask most of the screaming,with the final fist pump remaining. not good enough. fire the ad execs. dont buy bmw.


January 2, 2007 6:19 PM

As a father of six I have always tried to instill in my children what the words crude and greed mean. It appears the ad agancy for BMW missed that part of parenting. Hopefully for the rest of us these people are not parents. I have never hit the mute button faster than I do when I see that jerk of a kid losing it over a present. I don't think I have ever seen a local used car ad with less taste than that one. Who is it BMW is trying to appeal to?


May 3, 2007 10:41 PM

I'm an ad man, I drive a BMW and I loved the spot. I think that they are doing a good job of straying from arrogant know it all parents-some of the above posters-and targeting their children (future business).

I do feel that Fallon could have done a much better job, but I would hardly consider it the "worst commercial ever"

And, finally, if you claim you won't by a BMW because of that spot, then my friend, you have never driven a BMW.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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