Bruce Bildsten: A Creative Approach to Communication Clutter
Bruce Bildsten works as a creative director for Fallon. Because of his work on BMW Films, Bildsten was named to Adweek's All-Star Creative Team.
I kind of joke that I never read business magazines. I don't like to admit that I'm in business. I like to pretend that I'm still a ski bum. But I do read Fast Company and I'm glad to be here.
I want to talk to you about where BMW Films came from -- and why it worked. The egg. Where did it come from. BMW Films began as a different project. It began as an ad campaign because we are an ad agency. We were going to do the usual kinds of things we did for our clients. Reaction was, "Oh, no, not engineers in lab suits again." So we wanted to do something different.
There was a bit of inspiration. And that inspiration came in the form of a letter, a really inspirational letter saying, "We're taking the gloves off. Let's get beyond thinking about ads." Some of the research we'd done showed that people who own BMW's are much too busy to sit on their cans at home in front of the television.
We also found that 85% of the people we were trying to reach spent a lot of time online researching their purchase. We were also frustrated with how much we could show of the BMW in an ad. We kept rolling the great chase scenes from movies, and Ronin was one of our favorites. That's it! What if we did a chase film just like Ronin in which the BMW was just a character in the film and we delivered it on the Web?
What if we did it Hollywood level? What if we could get the best stars and best directors involved? And what if we could deliver it online in true DVD style? We packed our bags and went to BMW's headquarters. It took 30 minutes to pitch the project. And it took 30 seconds for them to say yes. We underestimated the budget by 50%, but we also underestimated the audience.
How can we justify that cost? We compared how much time someone spent watching a 30-second commercial with what it meant for someone to be enraptured for six minutes. And because the Web is free media, what if we reversed our ratios and spent 80% of our money on production?
Could we get the actors and directors? Everyone to a person was thrilled about the idea. We called it the mutual fund approach. Our first idea was to do one film and deliver it in sections -- a six-minute verse and then serials. Then we decided to make them individual films. It was easy to get a director to take a month off from their life to do this. It would've been hard to get someone to do it for six months.
BMW had just stepped away from their relationship with James Bond because the costs kept escalating, so we wanted to make James Bond look like a twit. Someone who's a little more intelligent and a little more modern. Another of our guiding principles was the separation of church and state. Once we signed up the directors, we wouldn't be heavy handed like we were in commercials. We wanted to make sure the directors got their final cut. BMW stood by that.
We also wanted to make sure the car was just a character. We even went back in to make edits because the car looked too nice or we wanted to use the shots with bullet holes. And finally, it was a big ass project. We're just an ad agency in Minneapolis. It took 100 people at Fallon a year to work on these films.
Throughout the process, we wanted to keep it quiet. We waited until we had the evidence to show people. We went from a whisper to a shout. We started out in chat rooms planting things like, "I hear Ang Lee is going to do a film for BMW." Then when we started doing ads, we did ads just like you would for a movie. They looked like real movie trailers.
In 2001 we launched the Hire. There were five short films. Immediately, the PR began to pour in. We had almost $20 million of free publicity for those first films. We had 13.8 million people watch those films. So the first season was a success. But after another year, what is the encore? There was a demand to innovate, but there was also demand to do the same thing. We decided to just do better films.
We had less money to work with. We had to launch a new car, the Z4. And this time, the whole world was watching. The results were even better. The second season got us 27.9 million film views. BMW being a German company goes by research. The films dramatically changed perceptions. BMW is young. BMW is cool. BMW's go like hell. BMW's are safe. Lexus and Mercedes are for wussies.
Why did BMW Films work? Separation of church and state. BMW and Fallon never tried to push the product. Secondly, the product fit. We weren't toilet paper trying to do action films. We were honest with people. They're called BMW Films for a reason. This isn't product placement. They're films. And finally, we rewarded people with a real piece of entertainment.