Nostalgia: BMW's Best Advertisements


There once was a time when BMW openly stated that they manufactured “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” and they weren’t afraid to let the world know. From merely stating the facts to poking fun at the competition, the genius of its creativity was as undeniable as the effectiveness of its humour. Let’s take a look at some of their greatest hits in print and viral marketing.

Clive Owen and Madonna star in “The Hire.”

The year was 1998 and BMW had just launched the E39 M5. A four door saloon that looked, well… like a four door saloon. But the magic laid in the fact that it could give any fire breathing supercar a run for its money – baby seats in the back and all. It had 400 horsepower and it was the must-have bona fide sheep in wolves clothing of the moment. Its hidden tallents evoked creativity all over the world and hired PR agencies came up with all sorts of tongue-in-cheek advertisements to market the M5. This particular advertising campaign, which consisted of a series of viral short films, was the first of its kind and spawned an instant new advertising medium based on its worldwide success. It was a genius move by BMW, the first company to invest serious money in serious talent to produce a film merely for the internet, which at the time was still regarded as a mere distraction – let alone a profitable place to spend advertising dollars.



Circa 2001, I had the opportunity to experience a Silverstone M5 from the passenger seat. It was an LCI (facelifted) model, painted in Silverstone, arguably the best colour for the E39 M5 that brings out all of its nuances and looks beautifully offset by the shadow alloy wheels. I’ve always had one lasting memory of my brief time in the E39 M5, and it was the ferocity of its snarling engine coupled to painfully brisk gear changes. I must of thought that was a good thing, as to this day I often still catch myself browsing the local classifieds for a mint E39 M5. 

A couple of years after the M5’s debut came the E46 M3, launched in similar shades to the current M3 and M4 launch models – Laguna Seca Blue (pictured above) and Dakar Yellow. After the underpowered North America model E36 M3, BMW finally straigtened the record and brought the entire world the same glorious, 340 bhp straight-six, M3 – and what a car that was. An instant success as a result of its handling, packaging, straight induction sound, and looks. Once again, BMW Marketing was off to the races to prance their new posterchild in front of the competition. 

Depicted above is a personal favorite of mine. It’s not as well known as the Audi A4 ad featuring the slogan “Your move, BMW” and then having BMW of California erect a billboard right next to across the street showing off the new M3 with the slogan “Checkmate.” Instead, what you can see above is Audi of Hong Kong not realizing that their dealership’s wall space was available for rent, and that there were no limitations as to who could use it to,… I don’t know, maybe advertise the newest BMW 5 Series? Surely that spilt a few cups of coffee at the Audi Hong Kong Head Office. Your move, Audi. 



But BMW wasn’t all flashy cars and cheeky taunts. When it came to convincing customers to have their cars serviced at the dealer, the marketing department turned to minimalism a la Volkswagen in the 50’s. I think the above ad is absolute genius and never before three simple letters arranged wrongly have gotten a point across more clearly. Bravo, and let’s see some more of this type of clever advertising in today’s world.

Absolutely brilliant. There’s no other way to put it. After seeing the ad live on TV, I don’t think I would of had the self restraint to not spend the house on a brand new M5 in the year 2000. Just look at it! Parked in the desert, with a cloud of dust about to settle down, just the right amount of dirty with the 400 horsepower ticking themselves cool after a top speed run. It looked – in a word – perfect. Luckily in the year 2000 I didn’t even have my driver’s license yet and I was still fantasizing of the day my dad would allow me to climb behind the wheel of our 1990 E30 320i 5-speed Convertible. Those were the days. The days of great advertising.

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