At the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show, BMWBLOG sat down for an interview with Trudy Hardy, vice president in charge of marketing at BMW North America.

Hardy was the head of MINI marketing for five years, then joined the BMW marketing department. Two years later, she succeeded Dan Creed as the head of the marketing department at BMWNA. Hardy runs the BMW brand’s marketing and product planning and strategy, and BMW marketing communications.

Recently she was awarded the 2014 Brand Genius winner for automotive by AdWeek, thanks to her London and Sochi Olympics campaigns which have been extremely beneficial for the brand.

Over the course of 30 minutes, we talked to Hardy about the latest BMW USA driving campaigns, the Olympics, social media and BMW Films.

The Ultimate Driving Experience

The customer driving program made a comeback in 2014 and moves away from the usual driving events in the dealerships’ backyard into a full driving experience behind the wheel of the latest BMWs – from an M car to an autocross in a 2 Series, to street driving with the 6 Series and 7 Series.

“Beside those programs, we also offered i3 and i8 test drives, along with dining experiences for some of our most loyal customers,” says Hardy. “We also focused on teen driving programs, we are really trying to get some young drivers in the market to come out and we will teach them what your local driving school might not – braking, what to do with understeer, oversteer, etc.”

Best of all, Hardy says these type of driving programs are free (only the M cars require a nominal fee).

“The programs have worked really well for us, over 25,000 people have registered for the test drives in eight cities nationwide,” added Hardy.

The Ultimate Driving Experience will continue in 2015 and BMW NA says new cities will be added into the mix.

London Olympics, Sochi and BMW

BMW USA has been a partner of Team USA and the Olympic Committee since 2010 with a six-year partnership. “This is a big commitment for BMW and it ends in 2016 with Rio,” says Hardy. “We wanted to make sure we can help the athletes get the best results and we offered the proper funding. It means the world to the athletes to receive corporate sponsorship.”

The partnership goes further than just monetary sponsorship. BMW is also using some of its in-house developed technology to see how it can help athletes improve their performance. “For the 2012 London Games, we worked specifically with USA Track and Field and USA Swimming teams to develop software systems that can help with the long jump and dolphin kick in swimming,” says an enthusiastic Hardy.

For the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, BMW USA created the bobsleds for Team USA. “That really, really brought everything together this past year. Everything just worked – we were launching the 2 Series, the i3 and i8, the new X5 – so we had this big media platform and five bobsleds developed with the federation and three of them brought medals home,” Hardy points out the investments made by the company.

In conclusion, Hardy says this past year has been extremely challenging yet the most rewarding for the brand. “2014 had a huge return for us. Who would have thought out of marketing we would be building bobsleds?”

Embracing social media for communication with customers

Social media has become an important channel(s) for companies to not only communicate with their fans but also to relate information to customers. Luckily, BMW has been doing a great job in the last few years and has built a loyal community in the social media space. Over 19 million fans have “liked” the BMW Facebook Page, and other channels like Twitter, Instagram or Vine have their own focused audience.

“We try to use the right channels for the right message and to the right audience,” says Hardy. “We’re starting to fine tunes the channels and we care more about the engagement than vanity numbers, natural organic growth is important for us.”

But how does BMW deal with the latest updates to brand pages that limit the organic reach? “Since we have a limited reach now without paying to reach more fans, we have to be more focused and testing the waters to see what works best,” explains Hardy when asked about the recent Facebook changes.

But the company is also being protective of their fans and followers, and are looking at ways to make sure the content is not spammy. “We try to be part of the cultural commentary that happens in the social space but I am also a little bit protective of how much we do – there is a fine line between being relevant and spammy.”

BMW Films – Will they ever return? 

Native advertising is a buzzword that many ad agencies are using it these days. A Wiki page describes native advertising as “a form of online advertising that matches the form and function of the platform on which it appears – the word “native” refers to the content’s coherence with other media on the platform.” But looking back in the history of the brand and advertising, we believe that BMW was one of the first companies to produce “branded content” without even becoming a trend.

BMW Films are to this date referenced by BMW fans and Youtube clips of the short videos are still being played daily.  Averaging about ten minutes each, The Hire was a series of eight short films produced for the internet viewing from 2001 to 2002.

A form of branded content, all eight films featured popular filmmakers from across the globe, starred Clive Owen as the “Driver”, and highlighted the performance aspects of various BMW automobiles.

So is BMW going to run a new series of BMW Films? “As the head of marketing at MINI when the BMW Films were launching, I was highly impressed with the video campaign and admired it – was a great series, well produced and highly innovative for its time and how it was distributed,” says Hardy. “And to this date is still a great content, but I’ve seen also many people trying to recreate that and I think it’s a mistake since it’s tough to live up to that original series.”

Hardy says the company has deviated in a smart way and created different documentaries and stay relevant, like short films for the BMW i brand and ActiveE.

“We’re careful to not be tempted to recreate the BMW Films and we look at what has changed and where we can push boundaries, but you will see a variation of that comeback, in a smart relevant way.”