BMW Tries Urban Marketing, Fails Horribly

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BMW Tries Urban Marketing, Fails Horribly

Somebody at the BMW Motorrad headquarters in Germany apparently thinks it’s okay to market their bikes in a way that exploits the working-class Latino immigrants of Central and South American origin who must endure the dangers of over-populated, low-income urban environments. Really? Everybody actually thought this was cool and didn’t think there was even a hint of aggravated classism resulting from the composition and narrative of this photograph? Not even a smidge?
A BMW K1300R with a rider clad in all-black armored leathers in the foreground lights up the rear tire while three weary-looking vatos in the background stand or sit directly in the biker’s path like targets in a video game. Uh huh… This is so many kinds of bad we won’t go any further except to state that we’d love a response as to why the company thought this was appropriate as a marketing tool for selling a rather expensive, high-end motorcycle. One that isn’t even represented in the line-up on the American site, that is.Tonally the image feels similar to the S1000RR shoot with the dated helicopter, but we can’t be certain since the photographer is not credited. Hopefully an executive from BMW Motorrad USA can inform the Germans this was a bad idea and maybe someone should fix it.

  • Yukio

    I think you’ve got it all wrong Grant. The BMW rider is obviously providing a smoke screen to protect them from the LAPD and/or rival gang drive-by. Right? Right.

  • Rich

    Grant – the same image is on the BMW Motorcycles US website; so much for cultural sensitivity. I think that they are trying to show that the “vatos” are approving of the K1300R and the rider’s display of BMW’s version of hooliganism. Getting approval of these guys is supposed to convey that you too will be a cool dude as you cruise/terrorize the barrio.

    • Grant Ray

      I pulled it from the US site, Rich, then verified it was on the other global branches as well which means the call to run it was made from hq. What BMW thinks they’re showing and what the image conveys are two very different perspectives. And did we mention the exploitation of a disenfranchised class? Yeah, that too.

      • carlos

        I got to agree with some of the other guys here. I get the view of BMW having street cred. I know down in Miami (sorry, not LA), the only people you see riding around on a BMW are rich-Euro or rich-Latin jerks with too much money on their hands and got tired of driving around in their overpriced Porsche. Not exactly what you see down here at bike night or at Fudruckers, doing high speed runs down US 27, or practicing endos and wheelies in the warehouse sector of Unincorporated Miami-Dade County.

        And isn’t the intentions of the “low rider” community to expose and promote their pride, respect and heritage?

        so could this be viewed as BMW’s reply to this as saying, “we have our own barrios, too.”

  • Dwight-675

    I gotta agree with Rich.
    It’s a macho “street cred” thang.
    The vato’s pose may appear adversarial, but it is probably more one of grudging respect.

    And I, for one, am glad to see more “diversity” in advertising.
    I cringe at the thought of 80′s style multi-cultural street toughs of indeterminate, yet varied ethnicities.

  • Enthusiast

    “I’m Batman”

  • will

    I for one welcome BMW to the wonderful and promising world of 1993.

  • Andre

    Thanks for holding BMW’s feet to the fire on this one. I read the photo the same way you guys do. Stereotyping is NOT diversity.

  • roboftheyukon

    Oh my…can’t everyone just relax a bit? Sheesh.

  • jamie

    Put that K1300 on bags and Daytons and its all good… pimp ze motorrad holmes

  • Michael

    muy bien,
    I wood look good on thees blehos black Motoraad, hey Chico?
    si boss……
    hey Chico, ju know wha a Motorrad ees ?
    sure boss….
    well, what ees eet then CHico ?
    OK boss, I don no what a Motoraad eees….

    laugh… golly I could go on like this all day, those funny Germans.
    perhaps in return Harley could do a jokey Nazi number with… they have arleady ? oh well.

  • MrP

    We should expect better marketing from the land that worships David “The Hoff” Hasselhoff?

  • stu

    i agree that you guys have got this wrong way round – the pic isnt depicting the bike about to run over the guys – it depicts the biker doing a burnout to impress them. It aims to give BMW street cred. In this sense, the social power actually lies with the ‘vatos’. In this sense, the ad is culturally empowering.

  • Stacy

    Anyone know some vatos we can ask for their interpretation?

    Better yet, let’s stage a re-enactment. I nominate Grant to play the part of the rider. Grant, are you going to LA anytime soon?

    Besides, everyone knows the PCHers ride whatever sportbikes they can get their mitts on. Except the leader, he rides a Victory.

  • Gregor

    I don’t see anything wrong with this… And neither did the Mexicans in the picture either…

  • v

    that looks photoshoped as in montage,it looks as sureal as the bmw with the helicopter

    • Grant Ray

      Not a montage, v. Just a basic tethered flash coming from off-frame on the left, pointed directly on the rider.

  • George

    Grant, you fail horribly. This ad is all about street cred. Stu has got it right.

  • pbxorcist

    Its from an ad campaign BMW did called “Respect”

    Setting the question of stereotypes aside for a moment, the whole point of the campaign was the concept of BMW gaining respect on the street. Because their brand is fairly genteel (and underpowered compared to the Japanese bikes) they put together what they consider to be a fairly gritty ad campaign to establish their legitimacy in terms of performance and to provide a non stuffy image to try and appeal to a crowd that wouldn’t normally consider a BMW.

    It also tugs at a all too common thread amongst motorcyclists….the need for acceptance. When I was younger I thought motorcyclists were all rugged individualists, I have subsequently come to believe that by and large they are the biggest pack of sheep. They dress the part of their tribe (brand,style of bike,style of riding), they ride similar bikes, make similar modifications etc…They want to belong and they want to impress people. Thats what the ad is speaking to.

    • Grant Ray

      Thanks for the info on the campaign, pbxorcist, as well as your thoughts and observations on acceptance in the biker community.

      I still freelance in advertising, so I fully understand BMW’s intent for their campaigns and for this shoot. My point is that this image suffers heavily not only from “Otherness” but also a kind of exoticism very much like Edward Said’s definition of Orientalism (as pointed out by Gregor’s Mexicans comment). The viewer is behind the biker in the midst of a display of aggression (connoting safety), separated from the latinos by a large expanse of the middle ground. These are easily identified, classic motifs when studying pictorial narratives, and are well-known, documented tools for propaganda.

      I don’t care what BMW’s intentions are. The image doesn’t care what BMW’s intentions are.

      • pbxorcist

        I understand what you are saying Grant, but if anything its either just a stylistic approach for impact or unintentional. Personally I would give props to any company that pisses people off with the advertising. Its all become to safe and washed out.

        That being said. I also think that BMW, much like Harley needs to get working on their brand stat. Their rider base is aging and they arent replacing them with new younger riders. For the record, I also would kill for that bike, I’ve loved them since they first came out.

  • Larry Kahn

    You’re all wrong…I happen to know the gentleman leaning against the Chevy and he’s my Rabbi.

    • coho

      El Mazel tov?

  • thomashenny

    I too think it’s about street cred but it’s not effective considering most hispanics (not all) don’t have the height to ride motobikes. I suggest not using Asians either. I mean, have you ridden the 7 train lately?

    Maybe they should’ve used Ewan Mcgregor; he’s hispanic.

  • hoyt

    True “cred” or “respect” could have been accomplished by one of the low riders sitting on the bike, while the moto rider looked on.

    Or the photo could have accomplished a much more profound acceptance if one of the low riders & the moto rider were both on bended knee taking a close look at the engine, wheels, etc., etc.

    The picture above is vague and can be easily misunderstood when it doesn’t have to be

  • aoelus

    I dunno. The dude with the aero shades is wearing some kool threads. Maybe they just want to drag for beers.

  • uberbox

    Seriously, you think this looks like some kind of racial aggression thing? Give me a break.

    I’m pretty sure I saw those three vatos riding around my neighborhood on their slammed harleys last night, seriously.

    as a resident of east L.A. I can with full confidence say that most of the people that I see riding nice bikes (including $18K hogs, gixxers, r1′s, etc, etc.) are latinos and this may be BMW’s attempt at invoking some of that street tough persona.

    They need it because most of the people that I know that like Bimmers are babby boomers who read “The Art and Zen of Motorcycle Repair” when it first came out and thought it sounded cool.

  • jconli1

    all this talk, and no one has mentioned that the bike shown isn’t even available in the US anymore.

    damn shame, too.

    • Grant Ray

      Actually, I did mention that in the article. The K1300R, F800R, F800S and a few others are all conspicuously missing from the American site’s line-up.

  • jconli1

    yeah… a lot of weird double-speak from BMW this year. The desire to really reach out to the sport market, to engage a younger audience and increase market share… and they pull the sportiest, most purpose-designed bikes from the US market. Sweet.

  • PhillyGuy

    Just went on the BMW website to get a better context for this photograph. What’s interesting, is that it’s one of 5 or 6 slides of supposed “urban” settings. The rest of the settings are much more genteel, ranging from high-end shopping districts to a modernist “loft-style” residence. I think in that context, the picture just feels lame. It’s seems to be saying “We realize you’re probably a wealthy yup, but you can probably play the part of a tough guy in the ghetto and get away with it.” It’s just so contrived, that I find it hard to see it as offensive. Desperate seems more fitting.

  • Cynic

    This is not appropriate. It doesn’t matter that a bunch of you don’t have a problem with it. It still is using negative stereotypes to sell a motorcycle.

    I like BMW motorcycles, even though they don’t sell my favorites in the US. (I own one of the few F800S and love the new F800R) However, their add campaign needs rethinking.

  • Tomas

    Dear Grant, Wes! I really enjoy your site because of it is connection to culture and design, and because it is in a way the voice of “the people” and “the street” (as opposed to motorcycle mainstream or corporate marketing). And I think you are gaining readership, judged by the number of replies etc. And great respect to knowledge and being able to put things in perspective to your readers, too (this link I think really illustrates it). – However, sometimes I wish there was less bitterness in some of your reports. You may not feel that way but please reflect on your two recent articles about Harley-Davidson and the Cycle World being in trouble – I just wish they were kinder and not filled with what almost looked like “Schadensfreude” (how to say it in English?). Same thing with Rossi and Nutella, I guess. First, I thought with you: doesn’t the guy have enough? Does he really need to do it? And that I read the responses which were all positive, tolerant and funny, and I felt better.

    • Wes Siler

      Thanks for the kind words Tomas, we’re glad to have you as a reader.

      “Shadenfreude” is a common word in the English language since we don’t have a direct equivalent that so succinctly sums up deriving pleasure from another’s misfortune.

      You’re not the first person to raise concerns that our tone can sometimes be interpreted as “bitter.” But we’re still puzzled as to why people read that into our articles. I’d like to think a better description for what we write would be: straight-forward, matter-of-fact, informed, entertaining and occasionally mischievous or satirical. One theory I have for the reason those characteristics have been misconstrued is that ours it the language of mainstream, younger-demographic publications and not the more outdated fluff and puff of most bike rags.

      You correctly state that we’ve experienced considerable editorial success since our launch a little over a year ago and have quickly grown a large audience. Part of that is hopefully because our readers recognize that we’re in this for them (and you) and not the industry. If that means occasionally speaking truths that other publications have traditionally shied away from, then so be it. Our readers deserve that.

      The two articles you specifically mention are “Harley Fumbles response to NY Time criticism” and “For Sale: Cycle World, project or parts.” The first is a very straightforward accounting of the financial woes Harley, America’s largest motorcycle maker, is currently facing and its continued belief that it can hide those problems from its customers, dealers and investors. It’s not anti-Harley at all, but rather a mature analysis of the situation and a call for them to be smarter with their business. We want Harley to thrive.

      The second is a news story about Cycle World being put up for sale by its publisher and an analysis of that publisher’s failed business practices that led to the magazine’s current trouble. While we are excited to see that the new model we’re pushing is succeeding while older models fail, we’d much rather see Cycle World change and survive rather than stay the same and slowly wither away.

      Does that help clear things up?

  • Kaleidoscope

    A tad hyper sensitive aren’t we Grant?

    • Grant Ray

      Hyper Sensitive, Kaleidoscope? As a card-carrying, federally registered member of the Creek Nation, (yeah, the one Andrew Jackson forcefully evicted from their lands and then marched them across half the continent to the Oklahoma territories), yes, I am sensitive to all forms of exploitation of indigenous peoples.

      Letting this slide by because of a bunch of white guys’ perceived idea of BMW’s intentions about a marketing campaign by an advertising team (of more white people) that knows better is just another form of the Good Old Boy culture. One that frankly, I’ve never really been a 100% part of.

      Intentions do not excuse ill results. Or as the women of my family put it, the road to Hell is paved with the best of intentions.

      • SJY


        As you so eloquently labeled the BMW marketing guys, from Germany no less, I too am just another White Guy. I can’t help but take offense to your statements. First of all you are obviously not from Los Angeles or any place near there or you would not call the people in this ad indigenous peoples. There are no indigenous people left in East LA. I think the only indigenous creatures left are the possums. Second is how you pulled your cultural background card out to prove your point against “White Man”. Can’t you see how your point labels the people who created this ad as “brown hating whiteys” and how that could offend Anglo-Americans like myself?

      • Kaleidoscope

        I hear you man. I’m Indian and I work in the marketing/communications field. This sort of imagery is ALL around. Take a look at most corporate collateral – they are filled with race and gender stereotypes.

        My point is, fuck it.

      • Nate Terrill

        Interesting that you know the racial make up of BMW’s advertising team. Where did you come by this information?

        I better check your Xbox live account and if I see ANY GTA San Andreas achievements without a long winded rant………

  • radman

    No one’s mentioned that converts are rarely if ever used as jumpers-all a 64 can do to keep from folding in normal use, much less hoppin’ the USA.

  • David Gonzalez

    Working class latino immigrants??? With THAT car?
    Sorry, but you don’t get a car like that in cherry condition on blue-collar wages.
    The fact that the “vatos” have a car that is worth more than the K1300S in the picture tells me that this isn’t about class.
    There are 2 ways that you can take this ad.

    The mexicans are looking at the BMW rider’s awesome bike and they are giving the rider some respect for his awesome machine and it’s ability to burn the rear tire. OR The mexicans are just about the kick whitey’s ass and on that K1300S (already in gear with wheel spinning) they don’t have a chance in catching him before he gets to the safety of the city looming just up ahead.

    The rider either fears the vatos or he envies them and wants to be a part of their group. The BMW is the solution to either thing.
    Regardless of your interpretation, the power balance is not tilted towards the guy on the beemer.

  • t1201971

    Grant- good looks, thanks for calling BMW on this one. That’s one of the reasons I read this site.

  • Sasha Pave

    I’m not a big fan of the ad. It takes an overused video-game aesthetic & a bizarre encounter and applies it to a brand which is known for precision, affluence and intelligence.

    It’s a shame to even try and market along these lines. BMW’s core are those who choose technology over fashion. It’s bikes are logical, and BMW turns riders into brand enthusiasts because they can actually justify why they spent 20k on a bike.

    This is just pandering to some kind of mythic urban fashion.

    If BMW really wants to go down this road, then they should take the approach of Bently, Cristal, Burberry, Louis Vitton. These brands were adopted by urban poor as aspirational, and in turn created a urban mystique which is incredibly profitable.

    BTW: Grant and Wes: Stick to your guns. We come here because of your brash and honest opinion. If your posts are bitter, all the better!

  • chili sv

    Like many people I saw this as a mutual sign of respect between the two parties. To me it says you can be urban and tough but different. To put one of those guys on the bike or an attempt to adopt their style would be pandering. And between their clothes and car, they don’t seem poor, nor is the background one of urban blight. BMW is radically changing their image and their product mix. They are trying to escape their niche with their new sport bike and their stunter sponsorship. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and try to remember, the bias just may be your own. We certainly all have them.

  • jmn

    What?!? Calm down Grant, I’d say the problem is in your head if thats what came to your mind first.

    This is prime example of a hissy fit over absolutely nothing.