BMW – The Hire

One of the great marketing campaigns of this millennium, BMW’s The Hire was lauded for its embrace of online marketing and branded content. Bolstered by tangible results and heaps of awards, it also helped launch the career of Clive Owen into the mainstream.

In 2000 Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) posted total sales of $33 billion, a slight decrease from its 1999 earnings of $34 billion. Afraid of further backsliding, the Bavarian automaker decided to reshape its advertising to better target the Internet-savvy BMW customer. Before 2001 the company’s advertisements had typically consisted of product-driven campaigns with immaculate BMWs clinging to mountain roads. BMW asked its longtime advertising partner, Fallon Worldwide, to create something different. In 2001 five action-packed short films emerged under the campaign title ‘‘The Hire,’’ which became one of the most acclaimed campaigns in advertising history.
After working with BMW to develop the idea of a James Bond-type hero who drove various BMWs, Fallon enlisted David Fincher’s film-production company, Anonymous Content. Fincher then successfully wrangled some of Hollywood’s biggest guns—including directors Guy Ritchie and John Frankenheimer and actors Madonna, Forrest Whittaker, and Mickey Rourke—to create the five short films. Three more films were created in 2002 to promote BMW’s new Z4 roadster. All eight starred Clive Owen (Croupier, The Bourne Identity) as the ‘‘hired’’ driver who found himself driving a BMW in every spot. ‘‘The Hire’’ was promoted much like a feature film would have been, with movie trailers, print ads, and Web ads.
The five initial films cost an estimated $15 million, and the three made in 2002 cost about $10 million. ‘‘The Hire’’ catapulted BMW’s exposure into film festivals, awards shows, and even an exclusive BMW DirecTV channel. By 2002 BMW sales were up 17 percent, while some of its competitors, such as Volkswagen and General Motors, floundered. By June 2003 more than 45 million people had viewed the films, overshooting the original goal of reaching 2 million viewers. ‘‘The Hire’’ garnered numerous ad industry awards. The campaign’s final spot, ‘‘Beat the Devil,’’ aired November 21, 2002.

Initially, Fallon and BMW had decided to film one serialized 45-to-60-minute film featuring a suave hero who saved, kidnapped, and escorted people using different BMW models. Fallon approached production company Anonymous Content, headed by David Fincher (director of Se7en and Fight Club), to produce the film. Fincher recommended that the spots be broken into five different films in order to facilitate file downloading and allow more flexibility in attracting talent to work on the project.
Following Fincher’s advice, Fallon developed scripts for five short films. In producing ‘‘The Hire,’’ Fincher and Fallon went so far as to create a dossier, complete with FBI and CIA files, just to flesh out the films’ hero. Fincher then solicited some of Hollywood’s top directors. The final list included Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate), Wong Kar-Wai (Chungking Express), Guy Ritchie (Snatch), and Alejandro Gonza´lez In˜a´rritu (Amores Perros). The scripts, ranging from dark to hilarious, were distributed according to each director’s style. Anonymous Content chairman Steve Golin told Shoot, ‘‘The good news is that these weren’t commercials. We had very few restrictions. The budgets were equivalent to [those of] high-end commercials.’’
Fallon flipped the advertising equation upside down by spending 90 percent of its budget on production and only 10 percent on media. The reduced media expenditure was initially seen as a huge risk. According to Advertising Age’s Creativity, a BMW rep warned Fallon, ‘‘Either nobody will notice, or this will be a smashing success.’’
For each of the six-to-seven-minute films, subplots were also created in an attempt to weave the film storylines together. British actor Clive Owen, whose character became the common thread for the entire campaign, always played the skillful hired driver. Frankenheimer’s ‘‘Ambush,’’ the campaign’s debut film, first became available for download on on April 26, 2001. It featured the hired driver saving a diamond smuggler from machine-gun toting assailants in a cargo van. Fallon released each of the following four spots every two weeks. Typical Hollywood methods, including broadcast spots, billboards, and free posters, were used to promote the films. Print ads ran in Hollywood trade magazines Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, and Rolling Stone. The trailers for ‘‘The Hire,’’ resembling regular movie trailers, aired on VH1, Bravo, and the Independent Film Channel. One of Fallon’s biggest challenges was to pitch the films as entertainment but to still disclose BMW’s involvement. ‘‘We wanted to avoid the ‘microbrew syndrome,’’’ Bildsten explained to Brandweek, ‘‘like where you look down and see that [your beer] was actually made by Anheuser-Busch.’’ ‘‘The Hire’’ was also uniquely filmed to fit computer screens. ‘‘No one had ever done an internet project of this magnitude, and we had a lot to learn,’’ Fallon producer Robyn Boardman told Advertising Age’s Creativity. ‘‘There are different things to keep in mind when shooting for the web. File size, for starters, and the fact that wide shots don’t play well.’’
Due to overwhelming Web traffic, ad-industry praise, and BMW’s bottom-line success in 2002, a ‘‘second season’’ consisting of three films began airing October 24, 2002. The second crop involved an equally renowned roster of names. Instead of Anonymous Content, all spots were produced by Ridley Scott (director of Blade Runner and Gladiator), who recruited directors Tony Scott (Top Gun), John Woo (Face/Off ), and Joe Carnahan (Narc). The actors included Gary Oldman, James Brown, Don Cheadle, Ray Liotta, and of course, Clive Owen, returning to star in the final three films. The last of the films was released at the end of 2002.
Even though BMW ended their 10-year relationship with Fallon in 2005, the eight films remained available on

‘‘The Hire’’ raked in a plethora of advertising awards, including two Grand Clio Awards and a Grand Prix Cyber Lion at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France, along with Best of Show at the One Show Interactive competition. The campaign was praised not just by the ad industry; it earned kudos within the entertainment arena as well. ‘‘Hostage,’’ from the second series of films, earned the award for Best Action Short during the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival in 2002. Entertainment magazines began reviewing the films. Even the New York Times gave the films a favorable review. Their entertainment value garnered media coverage not accessible to typical advertisement. ‘‘We’d hoped for a good response, but we never thought it would be as strong as it was,’’ Bildsten told Shoot in 2001. ‘‘BMW recorded over eleven million film-views. And according to their research, it really worked. [The films] got people to not just pay attention, but to buy cars.’’ By June 2003 the films had been viewed more than 45 million times. BMW’s sales rose 17.2 percent between 2001 and 2002, helping the automaker to outsell Mercedes and placing it second only to Lexus in the luxury-car market. From an ad industry perspective, the greatest pinnacle of ‘‘The Hire’’ may have been winning the first-ever Titanium Lion, the highest honor at the Cannes International Advertising Festival. The award recognized a campaign that caused ‘‘the industry to stop in its tracks and reconsider the way forward.’’

Success and Accolades

Tangible Love
– In 2001, BMW sales increased by 12.5% compared to 2000, surpassing the 200,000 mark for the first time in history
– The following year, BMW’s sales rose 17.2 percent between 2001 and 2002, helping the automaker to outsell Mercedes and placing it second only to Lexus in the luxury-car market
– During the four month core of the promotion (series 1), the films were viewed more than 11 million times, with more than100+ million views to date

Industry Love
– Awarded the Cyber Lion Grand Prix at Cannes in 2002 (Cannes is the ‘Academy Awards’ of advertising)
– Awarded “Best Excuse for Broadband” at WIRED Magazine’s third annual Rave Awards in 2001
– Recipient of two Grand Clio Awards and Best of Show at the One Show Interactive competition
– In 2002, the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival’s “Best Action Short” award was given to director John Woo for Hostage
– Won the first-ever Titanium Lion, the highest honor at the Cannes International Advertising Festival. The award recognizes campaigns that caused ‘‘the industry to stop in its tracks and reconsider the way forward.’’
– In 2003, The Hire series was inducted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)

The five initial films cost an estimated $15 million, and the three made in 2002 cost about $10 million.


 AMBUSH – starring Clive Owen, Tomas Milian and the BMW 7-series. Directed by John Frankenheimer.
While escorting an elderly man to an undisclosed location, The Driver is confronted by a van full of armed men and is warned that the old man has stolen a large amount of diamonds. The old man claims to have swallowed the diamonds and that the men will likely cut him open to retrieve them. The Driver decides at the last minute to help him, participating in a car chase and shootout with the van. The Driver eventually evades his pursuers and watches their destruction. He then delivers the old man to a town nearby and asks the merchant if he did indeed swallow the diamonds. The client merely chuckles and walks away. The Driver then leaves.


CHOSEN -starring Clive Owen and the BMW 5-series. Directed by Ang Lee.
The Driver protects a holy Asian child that was brought to America by boat. The child gives the Driver a gift but says that he is not supposed to open it yet. After being pursued by many armed assassins, and being grazed in the ear, he delivers the boy to another holy man. The Boy however signals silently to the Driver that the man is not actually a monk, indicated by his footwear. The Driver defeats the impostor holy man and rescues the boy. As he leaves the Driver opens the gift which is revealed to be a Hulk bandage for his bleeding ear.


THE FOLLOW – starring Clive Owen, Adriana Lima, Mickey Rourke, Forest Whitaker and the BMW Z3. Directed by Wong Kar-wai
The Driver is hired by a nervous movie manager to spy on a paranoid actor’s wife. During his tailing of the wife, the Driver describes the right way to tail someone. As he follows her he begins to fear what he might learn of her apparently tragic life. He discovers the wife is fleeing the country and returning to her mother’s, and that she’s been given a black eye, likely by her husband. He returns the money for the job, refusing to tell where the wife is, and drives off telling the manager never to call him again.


STAR – starring Clive Owen, Madonna and the BMW M5. Directed by Guy Ritchie.
The Driver is chosen by a spoiled and shallow celebrity to drive her to a venue. Unbeknownst to her, her manager has actually hired the Driver to teach the celebrity a lesson. Pretending to escape her pursuing bodyguards, the Driver recklessly drives through the city, tossing the hapless celebrity all around the backseat. They arrive at the venue, where she is thrown out of the car and photographed by paparazzi in an embarrassing end on the red carpet.


POWDERKEG – starring Clive Owen, Lois Smith, Stellan Skarsgard and the BMW X5. Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
The Driver is chosen by the UN to rescue a wounded war photographer named Harvey Jacobs from a hostile territory. While they are leaving Jacobs tells the Driver about the horrors he saw as a photographer, but he regrets his inability to help war victims. Jacobs answers the Driver’s curiosity about why he is a photographer by saying how his mother taught him to see. He gives the Driver the camera film needed for a New York Times story and also his  to give to his mother. When they reach the border, they are confronted by a guard who begins to draw arms as Jacobs begins taking pictures, seemingly trying to get himself killed. The Driver drives through a hail of gunfire to the border, but finds Jacobs killed by a bullet through the seat. The Driver arrives in America to visit Jacobs’ mother and share the news of him winning the Pulitzer Prize and hand over the dog tags, only to discover that she is blind.



HOSTAGE – starring Clive Owen and the BMW Z4. Directed by John Woo.
The Driver is hired by the FBI to help defuse a hostage situation. A disgruntled employee has kidnapped a CEO and has hidden her, demanding $5,088,042. The Driver delivers the money, writing the sum on his hand as instructed by the hostage taker. After he is told that he holds the life of a person in his hand, he is ordered to burn the money. As he complies, the federal agents break in and attempt to subdue the man, who shoots himself in the head without revealing where the woman is hidden. The Driver then tries to find the hostage before she drowns in the trunk of a sinking car. As a twist, the kidnapped woman is revealed to be the hostage taker’s lover. She coldly taunts the dying man in the hospital.


TICKER – starring Clive Owen, Don Cheadle, F. Murray Abraham, Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick and the BMW Z4. Directed by Joe Carnahan.
In an unnamed foreign country, the Driver drives a wounded man who carries a mysterious briefcase, while under helicopter attack. During the attack the briefcase is struck by a bullet, causing a display on it to begin counting down, and it to leak an unknown fluid from the bullet hole. The Driver manages to cause the helicopter to crash, but refuses to proceed without knowing the contents of the damaged briefcase. It is revealed that the man guards a human heart for transplant to a statesman (shown in military uniform), whose life and peacemaking is needed for the continued freedom of the country’s people. The case is delivered by the Driver in time for the surgery. Also present are another military officer whom the passenger had said would take over the country with tyranny if his superior died (and whose uniform matches the soldiers who had tried to intercept the heart), and US agents who ensure that he does not interfere with the surgery, and so is forced to give up his attempt to take the country by force.


BEAT THE DEVIL – starring Clive Owen, Gary Oldman, James Brown, Marilyn Manson and the BMW Z4. Directed by Tony Scott.

The Driver is employed by James Brown, who goes to meet the Devil to re-negotiate the deal he made as a young man in 1954 to trade his soul for fame and fortune. He is worried about his ageing and the fact he can no longer do his moves like the splits, and says his lessened ability to perform means he cannot maintain his fame and fortune. He proposes a new wager, for the stakes of the Driver’s soul against another 50 years for his career, betting on the Driver drag racing against the Devil’s doorman/driver Bob on the Las Vegas Strip at dawn. The race ends with the Driver swerving to pass around a train while the Devil’s car crashes and explodes. Having won the race, the Driver leaves James Brown in the desert, but as he drives away he sees him as a young man again, who then does a handspring into the splits. The final scene shows Marilyn Manson who lives down the hall from the Devil, complaining that the noise is disturbing his bible reading, much to the Devil’s fear.

The Hire on Wikipedia


Agency: Fallon, Minneapolis

Chief Creative Officer: David Lubars
Executive Creative Director: Bruce Bildsten, Kevin Flatt
Copywriter: David Carter, Guy Ritchie, Joe Sweet
Art Director: David Carter, Tom Riddle

6 Comments on “BMW – The Hire”

  1. Lois Smith red carpet | Celebrities 24x7 says:

    […] BMW – The Hire « This is not ADVERTISING … drives through the city, tossing the hapless celebrity all around the backseat. They arrive at the venue, where she is thrown out of the car and photographed by paparazzi in an embarrassing end on the red carpet. POWDERKEG – starring Clive Owen, Lois Smith, Stellan Skarsgard and the BMW X5. Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The Driver is chosen by the UN to rescue a wounded war photographer named Harvey Jacobs from a hostile territory. … […]

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  4. Get a big name director to direct your online video | Mash with gravy says:

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  5. BMW’s The Hire Was Ahead Of The Curve And Still Has No Equal | says:

    […] backstory behind the campaign goes something like this, according to ad blog This Is Not Advertising: in the late 1990s BMW noticed their profits were sliding a bit and decided to start targeting […]

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