BMW’s Web 2.0 efforts 1ntensify

Talk about going out with a bang.

Talk about going out with a bang.

Before leaving his position as brand communications manager at Whitby,

Ont.-based BMW Group Canada to take on a new challenge within the company focusing on the retail side, John Cappella fine-tuned the biggest Canadian launch BMW has ever seen for the 1 Series. Expectations for the March launch are high, since the company has been on fire lately, seeing consistent growth for over a decade and holding the coveted top spot as the volume-leading luxury vehicle in Canada. In the first 10 months of 2007, BMW Canada was already up 18% over last year.

The new 1 Series model is the luxury automaker’s first attempt at targeting a younger segment – 30 to 40, as opposed to its typical 40-to-50 range. Going after a younger cohort gave Cappella an opportunity to try a completely different marketing approach, including BMW Canada’s first foray into

social marketing.

‘Facebook is going to play a big role,’ says Cappella of the 1 Series campaign, which is just starting to roll out this month. He worked with Toronto-based agency Teehan + Lax on Facebook efforts like a contest that invites users to get their friends to virtually vote for them. When the effort wraps up in April, the top five users with the most votes will get to test drive the 1 Series on a closed course under the guidance of a professional driver.

‘He’s creating excitement about consumer drive events where people can experience the 1 Series in an exclusive arena,’ says boss Kevin Marcotte, BMW Canada’s director of marketing. Because it’s going after a younger target, the campaign will run fewer print ads than usual in favour of more online efforts aimed at driving traffic to a dedicated microsite, 1ntensity.ca. A cryptic teaser campaign began last month, with a prompt to join a ‘notevery1gets1t’ mailing list on the main BMW Canada website. ‘It’s intended to be a little mysterious. It’s a brand new segment for us,’ says Cappella.

Cappella is no stranger to web-centric campaigns. He served as BMW Canada’s manager, eBusiness, from 2002 to 2005, during which time he overhauled three websites in just two years – BMW.ca, Mini.ca and the retailer support site.

‘He likes to operate fast. BMW sees speed as an advantage,’ says Marcotte, adding that Cappella’s penchant for speed gels perfectly with a BMW mantra that came from former global CEO in Munich, Eberhard von Kuenheim, who once observed, ‘It’s not the big who eat the small, it’s the fast who eat the slow.’

Cappella, whom Marcotte describes as a creative strategic thinker, was intent on using the web to strategically demonstrate BMW’s benefits in a unique, engaging way at a time when many marketers still had bare-bones websites with lists of product attributes. ‘My first project was a challenge on the Mini side, to change the perception that it’s not a good winter performer. We did online videos and testimonials,’ Cappella recalls. ‘Five years ago, a lot was changing in the online space. There was a great opportunity to move things forward.’

When Cappella became brand communications manager in 2005, one of his major focuses was to raise awareness about the BMW xDrive all-wheel-drive models – key for the Canadian market because they’re good winter driving performers. A web campaign in early 2006 increased traffic to bmw.ca/xdrive by 600%, which Cappella attributes to good online creative executions by Cundari, featuring a snow-covered BMW 5 series driving off, leaving a silhouette of the car in its wake, as well as bi-weekly contests to keep visitors coming back.

This past year, Cappella led a new xDrive campaign that focused on safety messaging to differentiate BMW from competitors who were horning in on its established ‘performance’ positioning. One execution, featuring a pregnant woman using a BMW to get to the hospital in time, drove home the safety message, which was a big departure from BMW’s typically more male-focused ads. ‘This time around, we focused on females. That approach was new,’ says Cappella. Adds Marcotte: ‘John has definitely been a leader in the thinking of messaging safety…we’ve seen a significant increase in awareness of xDrive.’

Part of Cappella’s recipe for success is the close relationships he fosters with his agency partners at Toronto-based shops Cundari, The Media Company, Blast Radius and now Teehan + Lax, all of which he treats as an extension of his marketing department. He’s adamant about keeping his agencies in the loop as much as possible, and invites them to internal seminars. ‘If we as a marketing department go through brand training, there’s no reason why our agency partners shouldn’t also go through it,’ says Cappella. Marcotte says Cappella focuses on ‘setting up the agencies for success’ by giving them access to information and resources.

‘He always gives us access to product,’ says Paul Curtin, senior account director at Cundari, adding that he drives a BMW himself, which BMW pays for half of. Curtin says Cappella is also a big advocate of the agency within BMW. ‘He’s really helped us sell our ideas internally,’ he says.

When presenting creative ideas to the retailers, Curtin says that Cappella always explains the strategy in detail before unveiling the creative, rather than just saying, ‘Here’s the creative. Like it?’ as other clients have been known to do.

In his new role as regional manager, central region, Cappella will be working closely with retailers in Ontario. ‘Our retail network is the face of our brand to our customers,’ he says. ‘I see this as a great opportunity to get closer.’ He’ll be busily working with his agency partners on more tactical regional marketing efforts, as 2008 will see the most new launches BMW Canada has ever had, including the 1 Series, the X6 and the first diesel-powered BMW in the country.

Marcotte says Cappella is ideally positioned to handle the volume. ‘Given his experience on the brand communications side, within tactical marketing efforts the brand message will shine through,’ he says. ‘He has a strong record of success.’