Some years ago, a German poultry giant tried to add a whiff of luxury to cold cuts. Today, BMW is attempting something eerily similar.
The German word for turkey is Pute (poo-tuh).
This needs to be kept in mind when envisaging a tv commercial playing to the tunes of Ram Jam’s Black Betty, advertising turkey cold cuts by the name of Black Puty. If this sounds utterly absurd, it is not due to cultural misunderstandings – for Black Puty is an utterly daft monicker, regardless of whether one’s mother tongue is German or English.
The company behind Black Puty is Wiesenhof, a German meat industry giant. And a company that, in 2010, when Black Puty was introduced, had even more of an image problem than it does eight years later. First of all, turkey meat never enjoyed the best reputation in Germany to begin with. Secondly, Wiesenhof was considered to be among the worst offenders of the generally not well regarded German meat industry, particularly in terms of animals’ living conditions. However, there is no such thing as an issue marketing cannot take care of.
Which is how and why Black Puty came into being. Black Puty was supposed to not just elevate Wiesenhof’s image, but create an upmarket brand to shed the turkey’s lacklustre image once and for all. Or, in marketing parlance: Black Puty’s task was to make turkey ‘sexy’.
‘By using the colour black, Wiesenhof conveys a premium-quality, sophisticated image, which is supposed to be reflected by the taste as well.(…) The (black) packaging constitutes a complete novelty in the chiller cabinet.’ Or so Wiesenhof and its marketing department believed. Black, it would appear, is not merely beautiful, but all it takes to turn the mundane into something truly aspirational.
So marketing cannot only put lipstick on a pig (or turkey, for that matter), but even dress it up it in a little black dress.
Last year, BMW realised that the company has an image problem. The ‘premium’ concept of offering a product of perceivably higher quality than the norm (whatever that may be these days) had started to show first cracks – but more worryingly, the kind of ‘exclusivity’ that used to be considered an unspoken element of the ‘premium’ promise, had become a bit of a joke.
Building and selling no less than 2,088,283 cars in the year 2017 alone certainly makes a bit of a mockery of the idea that owning a BMW is an exclusive experience. Indeed, it is more akin to Claridge’s hotel in London expanding from its roughly 200 rooms to 2000 by way of building a skyscraper in the middle of Mayfair. The exclusive ring of the name would remain the same, but the sheer scale would prohibit any sense of real exclusivity to remain in place.
And yet it is the name of BMW that Serviceplan, a marketing agency, and Hildegard Wortmann, BMW’s then-marketing chief, had identified as the root of this image deficit. Not the fact that BMW has grown into a mass-market brand, or that vehicles like the 2 series Active Tourer are poison to any marque striving for an impression of sophistication.
Thus BMW became Bayerische Motoren Werke. Accompanied by chic Helvetica Light lettering and definite articles underlining the grandiosity of it all (The 7, The 8, The X7), Bayerische Motoren Werke is supposed to not merely elevate the Bavarian’s image, but create a true luxury brand to shed the rather lacklustre image of all those humble, ubiquitous rep mobiles and family vans once and for all. Or, as marketing likes to put it: Bayerische Motoren Werke’s task is to make Bavarian cars ‘sexy’ again.
And for that, what is needed more than anything else, is black. Badges on the cars excepted, Bavarian Blue as been banished from the Bavarian brand’s upper end of the range. For what the cars themselves may lack in terms of clean, tasteful restraint, the Bayerische Motoren Werke Markenwelt will make up for.
As always, the less the product speaks for itself, the more of the talking is up to marketing. In that sense, BMW have pulled out a great many stops, what with dedicated corners at the group’s vast motor show stands being dedicated to Bayerische Motoren Werke and, in the words of Ms Wortmann (who has a way with words), the creation of ‘a luxury ecosystem of unique services and experiences, which will include the entire family of luxury models and create unique, unforgettable moments’. A cure for cancer coming from Bayerische Motoren Werke must accordingly be but a matter of time.
Only recently, BMW Group chief designer, Adrian van Hooydonk, has reiterated the potential of Bayerische Motoren Werke. With this black line sub-brand created with the intention to make 7 series owners feel as though they are not part of the unwashed 2 series Active Tourer-driving hoi polloi (anymore), what could be more logical than to add more models, more diversity and grow BMW’s Club® Level to such an extent that the upper crust of this upper class eventually feels forced to go and buy themselves a Rolls-Royce? It’s all rather smart.
For growth, like black, is good. Growth works. So why improve the models that are already in the market and make these more appealing in themselves when marketing could do the job? Why end with a 7 series when there are still so many appealing numbers to play with? Why think of what your marques stands and, more importantly, doesn’t stand for when things appear to be working out as they are, more or less? Such measures would constitute risks, after all. And nobody likes those.
Black Puty, by the way, may have constituted a complete novelty in the chiller cabinet, but that in itself was not enough to convince customers of the aspirational qualities of turkey cold cuts. As a consequence, Black Puty ended up on the graveyard of marketing aberrations rather swiftly. Right next to the spot already reserved for Bayerische Motoren Werke.
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