With the Winter Olympics beginning to wind down and the annual Oscars broadcast fast approaching, the focus is shifting from sports to film – and BMW is keeping pace.
The maker, which sponsored a number of teams chasing gold in Sochi, including American bobsledders, is hoping to soon capture a little gold of its own – not by landing an award from the Motion Picture Academy, but with a repeat of the unexpected success it experienced 13 years ago when it launched “The Hire,” a series of eight short films whose plots followed an unnamed driver who piloted various BMW products through a series of adventures.
British actor Clive Owen starred in all eight of the 10-minute films which were directed by some of the hottest filmmakers of the day, including Ang Lee, Tony Scott, John Woo and John Frankenheimer. Rising directorial star Guy Ritchie wrapped his piece around a humorous confrontation between Owen and Ritchie’s then-wife Madonna. The others included a mix of comedy, drama and adventure with, of course, a number of car chases showing off the attributes of various BMW vehicles.
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Today, even the most mediocre bit of video can run up millions of views via such social networks as YouTube, but when The Hire first ran in 2001, the idea of producing films specifically for online distribution was considered a novelty – and a significant risk for BMW which spent about $25 million on the project. But the films collectively clocked about 100 million views.
While BMW Chief Marketing Officer Trudy Hardy has confirmed that it will revive The Hire, but so far, it isn’t revealing much else. Who will star in the films is one of the biggest questions. Owen’s career got a significant boost from the original series – in fact, he was considered a strong contender to become the next James Bond before Daniel Craig was named the latest 007.
It is considered all but certain that BMW will repeat the original formula and turn to a number of top filmmakers to pull individual elements of the new series together, and it may back up the star turn with other celebrity appearances in front of camera.
It might seem a particularly good time to bring the series back. The original version of The Hire helped draw attention to such then-new models as the BMW X5. The Bavarian automaker has lately been launching a wide range of new products that could also use some cinematic attention, including the 2015 4-Series coupe and convertible, and the 6-Series Gran Coupe. It would surprise no one if the maker’s all-new “i” sub-brand, with its i3 battery-electric vehicle, and i8 plug-in hybrid sports car, also make an appearance.
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BMW itself would clearly love to get the lift as it continues to battle Mercedes-Benz for the lead in both the U.S. and global luxury sales sweepstakes.
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While advertisers have long used celebrities to get their messages across, The Hire was unusual for both its soft sell approach and its cinematic values. Since it debuted, several other automakers have attempted to pick up on the BMW project’s lead, though none scoring nearly the same level of success.
Perhaps the maker that has grabbed the most attention for its alternative approach has been Chrysler which used a cinematic style to send the message that it was back after bankruptcy with a long-form 2011 Super Bowl commercial featuring rapper Eminem. The Detroit maker has since repeated that approach with celebrities including Clint Eastwood and, earlier this month, Bob Dylan.
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But the idea of creating a running series of mini-films remains a BMW a clef that the maker soon hopes to repeat.