Just Be Yourself In Front Of The Camera!

Even marketing isn’t as one-dimensional a domain as some would like to believe – as proven by two very different promotional videos marketing two supposedly very similar products, albeit more than two decades apart.

Image credit: (c) carscoops

Don’t be simply any person – be the person. By driving the car. The 8.

This largely sums up the essence of what the promo video for BMW’s all-new (for 2019) Achter is telling the viewer. Don’t drive anywhere – only LA and some salt river will do. Don’t live somewhere – a minimalist industrial chic loft will just about do. But only if your car can access it too. Then, and only then, are you smart, cool, cosmopolitan enough to understand that The 8 is just what you need in your life.

Go on then: Definite articleify your life! After all, even if you are in a position to spend more than €100.000 on a car, deep down you just know how mediocre you really are. How unexceptional. How some person, rather than the person.

Back in 1990, neither salt lakes nor lofts were required if one wanted to join in on the Achter lifestyle. A villa somewhere in the Italian countryside did the job. Achter ownership wasn’t a craving supposedly felt by ageing proto hipsters, but a middle-aged conductor. On top of that, neither a humorous tone, nor national stereotypes stood in the way of conveying The Premium Message.

Of course, none of this is accidental. Where the original Achter’s shape aimed for Rossini classicism (with a few concessions to late 1980’s tastes), The 8 is perfectly represented by the cold, digital, imposing oomph of the Hans Zimmer-like soundtrack. On top of that, the warm glow of the Tuscan (or possibly Sicilian) sun would be shred into scattered pieces of reflection by the 2019 car’s hectic, discordant surfaces. The pale, hazy light and quasi lunar surface of that salt lake suits its terminator chic far better than the romance of Italy in the summer.

E31 8-er. (c) ozbmw

It’s rather staggering to see in just how naive, how innocent a fashion the BMW 850i was presented, back in 1990. It was supposed to be an enticing ownership proposition to the discerning customer (like the gentleman conductor), suit his tastes and requirements. For that reason, its roadholding and comfort are depicted almost as subservient traits, while its visual appeal is measured against the backdrop of that most beautiful scenery.

Today’s Achter is very different. It requires the theoretical customer to prove he’s worthy of its cachet. The car doesn’t owe him anything, he owes the car everything: It is, seemingly, an utter reversal of dispositions. Such self-inflicted masochism, courtesy of a well-off clientele that supposedly has the world to its feet, is one of the more amusing side effects of today’s overabundance of luxury.

All things considered, the value of each promotional video lies in the fact that, like the automobiles they’re trying to sell, are a reflection of the times in which they were created. For better or worse.

Both video clips can be viewed on YouTube.

(Many thanks to B. A.)

The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at 


Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs www.auto-didakt.com // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

20 thoughts on “Just Be Yourself In Front Of The Camera!”

  1. A very telling contrast. Back in 1990, BMW had enough self confidence to use humour in its advertising (although Fiat might not have enjoyed the joke). The focus is still very much on the car, as the elderly and rather dishevelled conductor is hardly an aspirational image, even if the villa is rather beautiful. The camera dwells on the car’s bodywork, all smooth surfaces, perfect paintwork and tight (for the time) shutlines.

    In 2019, when a Hyundai is (at least) as well built as a BMW and the aesthetics of the new 8-Series are, ahem, questionable, the advertising has none of that relaxed self assuredness. Instead, it smacks of desperation: we are told that we need this car to fill a yawning chasm in our life, that nagging, gnawing doubt that we might be…ordinary. In a time of rampant individualism, could there be a worse indictment?

    As someone who is old enough to recognise and and be reconciled to my limitations, I find the new advertisement really rather depressing.

  2. Marketing is about identifying and monetising insecurities, isn’t it? Specifically, people’s worries.

    Worried that your kids are getting an inadequate breakfast?
    Worried that your hair isn’t glossy enough?
    Worried that your summer holiday might be ruined by the weather?
    Worried that are not the person?

    On this last one, I understand the logic behind BMW’s campaign, but I just don’t think the new 8 is good enough to carry it off. The new 992 Porsche makes it look very, very average in all respects.

    The old 8 is aging very gracefully though, is it not? It was received as a bit of an overweight bloater when launched.

    1. The louder you have to shout something out in advertising, the less true it tends to be, doesn’t it?
      (Mercedes didn’t need to say “the best or nothing” back in the day, because it was obvious.)
      That’s why the Porsche 992 doesn’t need any such claim.
      And the BMW 8 needs it desperately.

      But using it in such an aggressive fashion just makes it seem all the more desperate. And that’s all the less attractive. A lost cause…

  3. Excellent observation, Herr Butt! Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

    But maybe that’s just who the average buyer of “the 8” can most easily wish to be?
    An insecure overachiever who has dedicated his life only to the impression it will leave with the equally shallow.

    Don’t dare to be divisive! Just go with what Wallpaper Magazine thinks is cool.
    Don’t dare to be different. If it’s a BMW, it must be good.
    Don’t bother to think for yourself. Complexity doesn’t fly on Instagram.
    Don’t question what the ad tells you. They surely only want what’s good for you.
    (The last point is strangely true in this case. Because you want what they want everybody to want.)

    How did we get here?

  4. There must have been something fundamentally wrong with the E31/old Eight because they built just 30,000 of them in ten years.
    The E31 was seen as a crass statement of excessive self-confidence in the era of investment bankers. Problem was that this era was just over when the 8 came to market and BMW was faced with very low social acceptance for that kind of car. Fear of lack of social acceptance also prevented the presentation of the interesting M8


    1. Dave, you’re right. Despite working in investment banking back in the 90’s, even I thought it looked rather vulgar in comparison with its svelte 6-Series predecessor. Two decades on, it looks positively modest and self effacing when compared to today’s offering.

      As Max says, how did we get here?

    2. The lack of a convertible version was also a factor – as the runaway success of the R129 SL, which was no shrinking violet by the standards of its time either, proves.

      If E31 & E36 truly were such significant factors behind BMW’s/EvK’s decision not to appoint Reitzle as CEO, these cars do take on a certain melancholic quality. For with Wolfgang at the helm, BMW would be a decidedly different company today.

  5. The E31 was an oldfashioned car – pop-up headlamps were modern 20 years ago, the M1 face too. The rest was a less elegant japanese mixture of a Ferrari 412 and a Maserati Biturbo outside without having their luxury and style inside. And the V12 was not a good idea for a sporty car either.
    It´s time was over even before he entered the showrroms.

    And all the Gordon Gekkos and Bud Foxes of this time are longing for a R129 Mercedes, the BMW E31 was a car for a rural disco club owner…

    1. Well argued – though in hindsight this old fashionedness does look rather beautiful! An effect that might be helped by the rarity of the car. (Which would paradoxically make unsuccessful cars of their day more desirable as time passes. Has anyone looked into this?)

      Old fashioned or not, it didn’t stop BMW from putting together a very charming promotional video, much to our delight 30 years on. (Alas it doesn’t seem to have contributed much to the E31’s sales numbers.)

      Let’s see how the new “8” will fare in the market. And how we will judge their video 30 years from now. It may well be very amusing then too.

    2. I need to correct you there, Max:

      ‘Let’s see how the new THE 8 will fare in the market.’

    3. Max – it’s not a direct relationship, because some unpopular cars were unpopular for very good reasons and are forgotten, leaving barely a trace.

      Some, however, are commercial disasters but often due to reasons such as poor marketing or unfortunate timing, and their rarity makes them extremely coveted.

      Ladies and gentlemen, I present the McLaren F1. So successful a sales flop that McLaren is honouring its pitiful 106 car production run by making only 106 copies of the Speedtail.

    4. Thank you, Christopher. Very right, how could I forget?

      Good point, Jacomo. I wonder, is it possible to tell at the time whether it was the car or the marketing that stands in the way of success? Or is that only for history to judge?

    1. I suppose that is the true meaning of wisdom.

      Meanwhile, I am still young and naive enough to blame the design flaw at the heart of most shareholder-value driven organizations that makes them prone to setting short-term incentives for their senior management, leading to brand-asset-squeezing, near-term-profit-maximization strategies. Se Germans appear to have been excessively successful at this recently, crusading into emerging markets, while, in my eyes, betting the farm.

      (The systemic dimension of this may well be the other side of the coin that has brought us free trade, prosperity and peace, which may well be a worthwhile trade-off – but I am not sure this is an argument to indulge in further within the dtw boundaries of our innocent considerations about the automobile and would inevitably lead to the next impossible question: Where will it lead us?)

  6. Some BMW became famous only because they are built in very small numbers. The 507 is the best known example.

  7. Max: the increasing desirability of “failed” cars is a curious phenomenon. It might have to do with the combination of a limited pool of examples and the fact the number of potential buyers for them only increases. What is more interesting is the re-assessment of “failed” cars over time. Yet, I might be part of this. It makes for a nice stor to say x or y underdog is really a super car. And when getting an example to drive often means meeting a kind person who owns one it is hard to say “the Talbot Tagora is actually as crap as people said it was” (Thank you to Bobby Waddington of Total Tagoras Ltd, Newcastle, for loan of the car).

  8. I’m not so sure that a conductor is not an aspirational figure in the context of this advertisement, though. Firstly, since the voice over is in German, I assume it was aimed primarily at the German-speaking markets, and anything to do with Kultur has a rather higher social status there than in the Anglo Saxon world. Secondly, this was just about at the end of the Herbert von Karajan era, and von Karajan (not necessarily a pleasant individual by all accounts) had been the superstar conductor par excellence: at the helm of the Berlin Phil for over 30 years, married three times, qualified jet pilot (!) and fast car lover. He had a 959 on order when he died at age 81. Viewers would have known all this, although I do concede the man depicted here isn’t quite made of the same stuff….

    1. Very interesting info Michael! It fits perfectly to the video story!

    2. Hi, Michael, yes, thanks for the German perspective. Perhaps BMW missed a trick by not choosing a somewhat younger and more photogenic actor. Herbert von Karajan was a handsome man in his prime, which undoubtedly added to his celebrity:

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