Why stay on the ground when you can reach for the stars?

The challenge: a ground-breaking idea for the campaign of the global market launch of the new BMW X3. The solution: the BMW X3 “Mission to Mars” – an innovative 360° virtual reality test drive on the red planet. Christian Sommer gives us the lowdown on this adventurous marketing mission.

2017 is the year of the worldwide market launch of the new BMW X3. A vehicle that, thanks to its innovative features like semi-autonomous driving and the Connected Drive system, is equipped for every challenge – and every mission.

“Our campaign slogan “On a Mission” pays tribute to a life full of passion, inner drive and true dedication. The BMW X3 brings this sense of dynamism to the automobile world and guarantees a thrilling driving experience, wherever your passion takes you,” explains Hildegard Wortmann, Senior Vice President Brand at BMW. “Venturing off the beaten track and discovering new horizons is underlined by the off-road character of the SAV and its ground-breaking innovations.”

Cut to Istanbul Airport. Accompanied by a January blizzard, we are checking in for our flight back to Munich and our thoughts are already turning to our “On a Mission” presentation for the BMW X3 the next day. Right at that moment, we receive a new progress report from the agency. Bad news: the location for our BMW idea has already been used by another car manufacturer, as has the medium. We need something new, something that’s never been seen before. Something that can impress the world. Something that accompanies the global campaign for the BMW X3 and will bring customers into the showrooms to the dealers.

We’re supposed to be starting on it as soon as we land in Munich. While the team at home are already gearing themselves up for a nightshift, our heads are buzzing with questions as we board the plane: which location, what form of presentation? And using which new and fascinating technology?

Finally on the plane, we try to unwind with some on-board entertainment. A Hollywood blockbuster: Star Trek Into Darkness. Incredible special-effects. Somehow befitting this flight through the night. And then our food comes. Space food. I begin to wonder what the inhabitants of outer space eat. My view out of the window reminds me how small the world is. The sky outside has meanwhile cleared. The stars are twinkling. My thoughts also start to clear: why stay on the ground when you can reach for the stars? Like in Star Trek, we want to embark on a search for new worlds for BMW. But if they no longer exist on Earth because other automobile brands have already occupied them, then we’ll go where they have yet to go: to outer space. Why not head to Mars? Hollywood has already shown us how it’s done.

We land in Munich with an idea brewing. On our way to the agency, we call the team to let them know.”We’ve got it: “Test drive on Mars”.” After a short pause: “Sorry, what did you say? Are you crazy?” No, can you think of anything better? We’ve already seen everything on Earth. And the campaign slogan is “On a Mission”, after all. The perfect match, don’t you think?” The nightshift turns out to be a lot shorter than we’d feared.

We quickly decide on our medium of choice: VR. Our presentation at BMW goes off without a hitch. They instantly agree to the idea. Now it’s time to turn it into a reality.

The team is ready to take off. But who can create an entire planet in VR? And how does that even work? Who did such a good job of it for Star Trek? We watch the film again, this time fully awake. There he is, the VFX artist! We begin trying to track him down. And as chance would have it, he is meanwhile working in Munich. Amazing! The FLAVOR3D studio is keen to get involved and can spare us the time so they are also in the starting blocks.

And now the music. If we are using Hollywood visuals as our standard, then it makes no sense to settle for anything less when it comes to the music. A name that crops up is Boris Salchow, who sometimes collaborates with Hans Zimmer, who also happened to write the soundtrack for Star Trek. So we come full circle: and yes, Boris is also willing to get on board. The crew is soon complete and embarks on a mission to virtually drive on Mars.

Eight months and countless test drives on all end devices later and the time has finally come. For the global launch of the BMW X3, the Mars mission is being used by BMW dealers and BMW showrooms, as well as being integrated into global customer events and mailings with Google Cardboard.

The 360° test drive can be experienced on all standard smartphones via YouTube or on VR goggles and will be integrated into BMW’s online channels. This means that customers and markets can virtually try out the vehicle before the official market launch. Complex features that would usually require explanation can be experienced intuitively and in new ways – against the exciting backdrop of Mars. After all, even if the reality is virtual, the user’s experiences aren’t.

“With the BMW X3 Mars mission, we are once again offering our customers and fans a unique experience, something completely new they have never seen before,” sums up Uwe Dreher, Head of Brand Communications for the BMW brand and the BMW i and BMW M sub-brands. “For me, that’s how marketing should be: surprising, modern and with an entertaining wow effect.”

Curious to set off on your own Mission to Mars? Do it here.

 Photo: Serviceplan Group

Christian Sommer

Managing Director Serviceplan Campaign 2

Christian studied fashion design and started his professional career as a fashion designer. When developing the campaign for his first clothing collection, he fell in love with advertising and studied communication design in Munich. He started his career as a trainee at Serviceplan Munich where he became Creative Director for integrated campaigns within three years. His work significantly contributed to turning Serviceplan into one of the world’s most creative independent agency groups. A professional ski guide, in 2009 he followed his passion for the mountains and relocated to Switzerland. In Zurich he built up the newly founded agency of Scholz & Friends. In 2012 he became a founding member of Serviceplan’s new Swiss agency group and quickly led it to widespread national and international success as Chief Creative. During his career, Christian has developed global campaigns for clients like Amnesty International, BMW, Bosch, Credit Suisse, Sympatex, Migros, Oakley and many more. He has won and also judged multiple awards at the most important advertising festivals around the world.

Competition of the future

“The automobile industry will change more in the next five years than it has in the previous thirty,” says BMW’s Head of Development Klaus Fröhlich. Electrification and digitalisation are leading the corporation into competition with IT giants from the US West Coast and China, who have been aggressively pushing their way into the mobility business. All striving for the same goal, the self-driving car and control of customer data. And with its new “Mars Mission”, BMW wants to be the first to set foot in this new world. (Handelsblatt, 9.10.2017)

The world is not enough for BMW.

For BMW, we are leaving Earth and embarking on a journey to unknown worlds. Our mission: a 360° virtual reality test drive on Mars. There, on our solar system’s fourth planet, customers and fans are virtually experiencing features of the new BMW X3 before they take a real-life test drive – not to mention, quite literally, a whole new realm of pioneering dealer communication. After all, this outer space mission is the world’s first test drive on the red planet.

Recreate an entire planet in CGI?

Challenge accepted! Together with visual effects designers who had already worked on Hollywood productions like Star Trek, we made it possible for people to drive on Mars for the very first time. All thanks to spectacular images and an opulent sound design, resulting in an intensive experience.

Mission complete.

“The comprehensive worldwide “On a Mission” campaign is accompanying the successful market launch of the new BWM X3. As well as the powerful TV commercial with extreme athletes, the highlight of the campaign is a 360° virtual reality test drive on Mars, as well as the extension of the campaign into digital channels.” (BMW Group, 26.09.2017)
Once you’ve experienced the BMW X3 in this environment, you’ll also want to take it for a spin in our world. The huge interest being reported by BMW dealers reflects the genuine interest in the new vehicle.

Other articles in this chapter

This page is available in DE