Back to the future of
branded content with 
BMW films


The BCMA hosted panel ‘Back to the Future of Branded Content’, packed out the auditorium at the ‘Inspiration Stage’ for the inaugural Lions Entertainment Festival. Those attending were taken on an incredible journey back to 2001 sharing some never before seen or discussed content about BMW Films.

To set the scene for key events of 2001, we heard that Dennis Tito became the first space ‘tourist'; Enron filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and was the largest corporate failure; we witnessed the terrible atrocities of 9/11; Tony Blair’s Labour government were elected for a second term; the ‘War on Terror’ began as the USA invaded Afghanistan; the Tower of Pisa opened again after 11-years of refurbishment; the Eden Project opened in Cornwall and the first of the huge media mergers, America Online (AOL) and Time Warner was approved, forming the now ill-fated, AOL Time Warner.

With regards to technology, Internet penetration was just 8.1% and the best selling mobile was the Nokia 3310 handset.

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the BMW Group, a company with a long-standing and well-deserved reputation for innovation – not just in its vehicles, but in all aspects of its business including marketing.  A great example of this innovative spirit in marketing came back in 2001 with the introduction of BMW Films, a series of eight short films that all but created the branded content category and set the stage for an entire industry.

It is clear that BMW and their creative partners were so ahead of the curve. The stellar line up of talent including Directors, Ang Lee, Guy Richie, John Woo, Ridley and Tony Scott. The star-studded line-up of Actors included Clive Owen, Madonna, Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Gary Oldman and Forest Whitaker was nothing short of extraordinary. It pretty much launched the career of Clive Owen.

If BMW had produced these films in today’s celebrity obsessed world, it would probably have ‘broken the Internet’! To this day, due in large part to the quality of the storytelling, the purity of the brand integration and the quality of the talent behind and in front of the camera, BMW Films remain timeless and at the pinnacle of branded content.

The figures are nothing short of incredible when you put them in the context of the market at the time. This was way before YouTube was even thought about and there wasn’t such a thing as superfast broadband! Across the period, they attracted over 100 million visitors to the BMW website to view the films. It was heralded as “One of the great marketing campaigns of the millennium” and perhaps most importantly, sales increased by ‘double-digit’ growth.

In reality, the ‘Car was the Star’ as each film featured a different BMW model.

With the help of BMW North America, the BCMA gathered together four of the original key individuals who were responsible for creating this ground breaking branded content campaign. This included, Jim McDowell (AKA ‘Mr BMW’), the now retired, pioneering BMW client that commissioned the BMW Film series.

He was joined on stage by Bruce Bildsten, the then Creative Director of Fallon who shaped the vision for the Films.

We were shown the original Story Boards, for the ‘Beat The Devil’ film, created by the legendary – sadly deceased – Producer, Tony Scott (RSA Films), that David Carter, Writer and Art Director of the Series, explained to the audience.

Finally, we heard from Brian DiLorenzo, Executive Producer, who explained how they chose the talent and in particular how Clive Owen became the ‘face’ of BMW Films after the team saw his performance in his first major movie, The Croupier.

One of the best insights came from Jim McDowell, when he was asked “How did you get this approved by the ‘powers that be’ at BMW?” to which he answered, “I didn’t tell them, I kept it secret until we know we had something truly spectacular.”

Go backstage with Cannes Lions TV and hear from Andrew Canter and Brian DiLorenzo here. We’d like to thank those who were not on stage, Fred Senn of Fallon, Steve Golin of Anonymous Content and Jules Daly of RSA Films who were also instrumental in the making of the BMW Film Series.

Also, a mention to those who are sadly no longer with us that were involved, namely, Joe Sweet and Tony Scott.

Special thanks to Phil DiIanni from BMW North America for helping to make this a reality and our panelists for sharing their amazing insights into one of the best ever branded content campaigns.