Rashmi Menon

BMW India Financial Services surprises test drivers

The brand's on-ground activation chose 10 customers, who were given a royal treatment while test driving the car; the ultimate reward was meeting Sachin Tendulkar.

On a bright Sunday morning, 10 unsuspecting customers were in for a surprise, when they were invited by German luxury car maker BMW for a test drive. Besides been treated as royalty, the "cherry on the cake" moment came when these chosen customers walked the red carpet, where they were greeted by cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.

BMW India Financial Services surprises test drivers
BMW India Financial Services surprises test drivers
Fortunately for the brand, the video of its on-ground activity that took place in early December 2013 has gone viral online; it has clocked 1.93 lakh views on YouTube.

The video starts off with a collage of scenes that show the customers getting ready to test drive the BMW series 5 model. They then encounter moon walking street cleaners, school girls sprinkling petals, ballerinas doing a gig, a woman in a car stopping to click their photo in the car and even an orchestra playing for them. The customers are also overwhelmed on seeing their family photos on hoardings. Their reactions are expertly captured on the split screen. The unique driving experience ends with them stepping on the red carpet flanked by cheering people and photographers, and being greeted by Tendulkar.

If you didn't wait till the end of the video, you could have mistakenly assumed it to be an ad for the car. The video actually aims to promote BMW India Financial Services, which enables customers to buy the brand's vehicle by providing instant, flexible financial solutions. The division, which was set up three-and-a-half years ago in India, deals in retail finance, commercial finance and insurance solutions (in association with partners). And, the company has the fastest turnaround - within four hours - which is a record in the industry.

Explaining the idea behind the campaign, Tom Stephenchak, chief sales and marketing officer, BMW India Financial Services, says, "Obviously everyone knows about the cars and the car brand. But there is another part to this. There is an emotional decision when you go out to buy a car but after the emotional impact hits you, the rational part kicks in and the customer wonders, 'Okay, how am I going to pay for this?' So, we wanted to create brand awareness about BMW India Financial Services to help people realise their dreams." Interestingly, the brand did not put up targets for conversion to sales for this campaign.

So, what prompted the brand to come up with a campaign? According to Stephenchak, it all began a year ago, when BMW regional vice-president visited the Gurgaon-headquartered division and challenged the team to do something "fun, clever and unique" in the social media space. This led to an intense brainstorming session with emphasis on coming up with ideas that surprise customers. The brand then met creative agencies and partnered with Webchutney.

Interestingly, the brand decided on Mumbai as the location for its on-ground activation based on Tendulkar's availability. "All we needed was an hour of Tendulkar's time. So, we locked it on Mumbai," says Stephenchak. He recalls the details of the script were combed so finely, it enabled Tendulkar to be in and out of the set within 45 minutes, prompting Tendulkar to praise the efficient organisation of the activation. Interestingly, Tendulkar does not endorse the brand but is a BMW fan.

Meanwhile, in the online space, the video has also drawn flak from viewers who have accused the brand of copying Renault Clio UK's ad, which was on similar lines, that was uploaded in July, 2013.

The activation was executed and shot by Bal Simpson (aka Balu) from Off-road Films. Isobar is the social media agency of the brand.

Behind the scene

Here's the quick trivia: the entire activation comprised 38 primary cast members (the cleaners, school girls and ballet dancers), 50 background extras for the red carpet scene, and 12 hidden cameras to capture the expression of the customers, who test drove. Three cameras were placed carefully inside the two cars that were used for the activation; the rest of the cameras were placed on the actors and behind trees.

For the ballet scene, the brand was originally searching for actual ballerinas. However, as they were difficult to find, professional Bollywood dancers were hired and taught ballet moves.

The ad was shot within a span of 12 hours at Ballard Estate. Stephenchak says that the reason they chose the area was because on Sunday morning, they could get access to vehicle-free roads.

One of the most challenging aspects of the activation was choosing the 10 participants. For this, Stephenchak says, they sent out invites to around 40 customers of BMW's dealer in Nariman Point, Mumbai, for Sunday brunch and stated, "We have a dream experience for you". Here Stephenchak personally greeted the customers, spoke to them to see how much expression they had on their faces. They also surreptitiously took the photos of customers and used them to make the hoardings featured in the video.

Out of the 20 people who were selected, 16 were given the "driving experience" and 10 made it in the final cut.