BMW Canada goes virtual with ‘Auto show and a movie’

Who: BMW Canada, with Richmond Day for creative and strategy, Angle Media, and 7 Communications.

What: With in-person automotive shows on hold, BMW created “Auto show and a movie,” a digital showcase for the luxury automaker’s performance models and electric vehicles.

When & Where: The event was streamed in households across the country on Saturday (Feb. 27). The company originally intended to have 6,000 people watch the 20-minute presentation, but registrations ended up topping 7,000.

Why: Auto companies like BMW have traditionally relied heavily on auto shows to promote their new vehicle lineups, but with events like the Canadian International Autoshow cancelled or moved online because of the pandemic, they’ve been forced to find alternatives.

Some auto brands were already beginning to rethink their approach to auto shows even before the pandemic, citing declining attendance and the cost of staging an exhibit. After attendance fell markedly for the 2019 Frankfurt International Motor Show, one of the largest in the world, Opel’s former CEO Karl Thomas Neumann tweeted that the event had been “a huge fail. It’s just a sad shadow of what it used to be.”

According to a 2020 story in The Globe and Mail, auto brands spent nearly $5 million on a large display exhibit for the New York International Auto Show, while German automakers Daimler and Volkswagen were said to have spent as much as $40 million on displays at the Frankfurt show. Both Volvo and Mercedes-Benz opted to sit out last year’s Toronto auto show, while BMW and Audi had signalled their intent to skip the New York auto show prior to its cancellation because of COVID.

How: BMW shot footage for the recent 20-minute streaming event in both English and French, combining new and existing footage to create what Andrew Scott, director, BMW brand management, described as “an emotional introduction to our new performance models.” BMW also gave attendees an exclusive access code for a movie from the online Cineplex Store, while 200 guests had a chance to win a giveaway package including a BMW blanket and treats, and 25 people won a pair of high-end headphones from Bowers & Wilkins.

The “Auto show and a movie” program aligns with BMW’s continued efforts around digital promotion, which includes events like BMW Live from Ultimate Drive, a series of live product walk-arounds to introduce new vehicles to the public, and a Virtual Showroom that lets users explore its entire lineup.

Scott said the virtual events have introduced the brand to new potential customers, with the Live From Ultimate Drive series alone garnering more than one million views. “As we get better at this, we’re making our programs more impactful and the community is responding positively,” said Scott, noting that the live feed during the “Auto Show and a Movie” event was filled with positive comments.

“I’ve been doing events a long time, and it’s not very often that your community thanks you for what you’ve offered,” he said. “That may not be a qualitatively measurable result, but we’re taking it as a positive. Anytime we give our enthusiasts something that makes them happy, that’s success.”

The company has signalled that it intends to continue investing in these types of virtual events. In January, Pieter Nota, a member of BMW AG’s board of management responsible for customer, brands and sales, said that the company plans to invest a “triple-digit million euro amount” annually up through 2025 in the digitalization of its sales and marketing.

And we quote: “Being digitally accessible to our customers and fans when and where they want us is a key priority for BMW,” said Scott. “This focus will allow us to deliver the best customer experience in the industry.  Our lead acquisition is up significantly thanks to the new digital touch-points we’ve created recently.” —Andrew Scott, director, BMW brand management

Chris Powell