In an age where YouTube is filled with automotive content, BMW’s new film, “The Escape”, has already clocked up nearly 5 million views on BMW USA’s channel. That’s double the amount of views Chris Harris’ Holy Trinity video has managed in a year, despite the Top Gear star having around four times more subscribers on his channel.

“The Escape” celebrates the 15th anniversary of “The Hire” films series, which made BMW the king of automotive marketing. However, what’s the story behind BMW Films and why are they so popular?

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Need For Radical Marketing Ideas

During early 2000, BMW USA didn’t have any major car launch coming up so the company’s marketing supremo, Jim McDowell, decided to try something new to improve the automaker’s PR standing.

McDowell was a former Porsche employee and a PR genius, with Brandweek twice naming him their “Marketer of the Year”. His team, along with BMW’s ad agency, Fallon Worldwide, indulged in a series of brainstorming discussions and eventually decided upon the idea to produce short films for the growing Internet users.

These films weren’t going to be portrayed as advertisements, instead they would be telling an interesting story with the focus being on the car. Viewers ignore ads but films, even five minutes long, can invigorate involvement and remain stuck in the minds of the people for years. BMW wanted to reach out to the Internet users in a completely unique way rather than investing in the annoying banner-ads and pop-ups.

Why the Internet?

There was no YouTube or Dailymotion in 2000 and barely anyone had heard about the term ‘social media’. Heck, the Internet population hadn’t even crossed 500 million.

Yet, 85 percent of BMW’s customers went to the Internet to research about the car before buying it and many of them spent more time online rather than watching the TV. Hence, Internet became a very important outlet of advertising for BMW and while the films were available in DVDs as well, the Net was what they were primarily meant for.

Getting Stars on Board

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Directors like David Fincher (the man behind “Fight Club” and “Seven”), Ang Lee (director of “Sense and Sensibility”) and Guy Ritchie (brought in added glamour for dating Madonna) came on board. For the lead acting role, Clive Owen jumped in. By roping in Hollywood bigwigs, an aura of excitement was created around the project.

Eight films were produced in 2001 and 2002, with Owen playing the role of a professional driver who piloted a BMW. The cars varied, from the E39 M5 to the Z4, but the central theme remained the same.


BMW went on to spend around $25 million on the eight films, but the German carmaker states that they created a PR value of $26 million in return. The films weren’t put up on BMW’s official website, instead they could only be viewed on, as McDowell was desperate for them not to be seen as flat-out ads (a trend that has continued with “The Escape”).

Critics and Fans Love “The Hire”


In just a few months, more than 9 million people visited Sixty-eight percent of the visitors were males and 42 percent had incomes of more than $75,000. Journalists from New York Times, The Times and USA Today wrote positive reviews about the films, Harvard Business School did a case study and the movies are part of the Museum of Modern Art archives. Awards came in from all corners, including two Grand Clio Awards and a Grand Prix Cyber Lion at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes.

BMW North America reported sales growth of 12.5 percent in 2001 and the following year, which saw the last three films come out with the new Z4 starring in all of them, helped BMW kick-start the sales of the roadster in the USA.

Looking at BMW’s success, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan came up with their owns films and “The Hire” also became the inspiration for Hollywood film, “The Transporter”, which earned nearly $45 million on the Box Office.

Return With The Escape

“The Escape” has been well-liked by the car community. At the time of writing this article, it has a staggering 16,918 up-votes and just 575 down-votes on YouTube and our very own Nico DeMattia has called it a “proper action movie with sequences that would embarrass some big-budget feature-length films.”

Interestingly, as BMW celebrates its 100th anniversary and we move towards autonomous driving and E.V.s, that is, the future of driving, “The Escape” has a very futuristic storyline with the plot revolving around illegal human cloning.

[Source: BMW, David Kiley]