Promotional effort for 'Ghost Protocol' marks return to Hollywood

Nearly a decade after leaving Hollywood in its rearview mirror, BMW is back in a big way.

The German automaker has eschewed tie-ins with tentpoles or high-profile entertainment sponsorships and product placement deals since about 2002. But that will change as BMW launches its largest film campaign since its efforts with the James Bond franchise, pairing up with another spy series, “Mission: Impossible.”

In a deal easily worth tens of millions of dollars, BMW is rolling out a “Mission to Drive” campaign around the world for Paramount’s Tom Cruise vehicle “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” that involves TV, print, radio, Internet and in-dealership ads.

Ads run through Jan. 2.

One of the largest film marketing match-ups with a brand in years, the effort also marks the return of a company that once broke new ground in the branded entertainment space.

In addition to three James Bond films, BMW was a pioneer in online entertainment with its innovative short film series “The Hire,” produced by David Fincher, Ridley and Tony Scott in 2001 and ’02. But shortly after that, the company chose to take its entertainment marketing dollars elsewhere and invest it in sports sponsorships, backing Formula One and America’s Cup car and sailing races, for example.

As a result, other automakers, especially Audi, GM and Mercedes-Benz, revved up their own entertainment plans and stole much of BMW’s thunder and relegated its cars to the favored wheels of villains who wound up destroyed in fiery crashes.

“We fell under the radar,” Ralf Hussman, general manager of BMW sports marketing and cooperation, admitted to Variety. “If you quit and don’t do anything else, then you’re at risk.”

But BMW wound up getting considerable exposure from its sports sponsorships, which will include next year’s summer Olympics, in London. Sports deals “worked well at the time,” Hussman said. “But society is changing. Times are changing.” With “Ghost Protocol” and other deals to come, BMW has shifted its advertising budget back to Hollywood to use entertainment “as an emotional platform to engage with consumers,” Hussman said.

Propaganda GEM, the marketing firm that propped up the Audi brand through showy entertainment deals over the past decade, now handles the BMW Group, which also includes brands like Mini, Rolls-Royce and BMW motorcycles. Audi’s entertainment efforts in Hollywood are now handled by Iconic Entertainment.

BMW isn’t necessarily associating itself with Tom Cruise’s spy or the “Mission: Impossible” franchise.

“At the end of the day, it’s up to the viewer,” Hussman said. “You have ‘Mission: Impossible’ fans and you have Tom Cruise and Ethan Hunt fans. It’s like with sports, you have fans of a football team and you have fans of the players. We have partnered with Paramount.”

Naturally, the availability of more marketing dollars is good news for studios looking for promotional partners for their films, especially when it’s become more expensive to release films around the world at once. Coca-Cola’s Coke Zero is also a major sponsor of the fourth “Mission: Impossible” adventure, produced by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk and co-financed by David Ellison’s Skydance Prods.

Par produced two TV spots with BMW. And in showrooms, the studio helped design decals of a burning fuse to place on cars; the “Mission: Impossible” theme plays when doors are opened.

BMW also will promote the film at its booth at the Los Angeles Auto Show that kicks off Nov. 18. In the past, the timing of the show didn’t enable automakers to push their film tie-ins.

To support the pic’s launch Dec. 16 on Imax screens before it unspools wide on Dec. 21, BMW will also hold more than 200 special screenings for BMW customers in addition to sending a select few to the premiere.

“There is no aspect of a marketing tie-in that has not been activated,” said LeeAnne Stables, exec VP of worldwide marketing partnerships at Paramount Pictures. “They’re making full use of this property.”

In return for the marketing support, “Ghost Protocol” will prominently feature BMW’s 6-series convertible and its futuristic Vision EfficientDynamics concept car (only two of which were available for the production) in several key action sequences. The Vision is being reproduced as the i8 hybrid and electric sports car.

But what BMW really wanted to show off in the film was its in-car ConnectedDrive technology that provides features like interactive traffic and parking assists, mobile device connectivity, entertainment apps, text-to-speech controls and windshield displays.

“We wanted to showcase what these integrated technologies can do,” Hussman said. “We invented some things for the film, but ConnectedDrive is already here,” Hussman said.

The in-car gadgetry “was a perfect fit for a movie like this because that’s what the IMF team (led by Cruise’s Ethan Hunt) is all about,” Stables said. “They always have the best toys.”

Par brokered the deal with BMW 18 months ago and involved the carmaker in the film’s creative development and during production in Dubai, Mumbai, Prague and Vancouver, which resulted in “an unprecedented level of technological support to our production team,” Stables said.

“We were interested in a real collaboration,” Hussman said. “We didn’t want to be surprised how our cars would be used.”

Future tie-ins all depend on the opportunity and if there’s a common fit for BMW, Hussman said, meaning the launch of a new model or technology BMW wants to promote, along with the characters and themes of the film.

Hussman explained: “You don’t want the audience to say, ‘Why is BMW there?'”

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