A Social Experiment Shaping The Future Of Mobility

By James Thorpe
Agency: Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners
Client: BMW North America
Category: 2011

Summary This is the story of the launch of BMW ActiveE. The story of the first time BMW would put a 100% Electric Vehicle into the market. A story about launching a car as a social experiment. An experiment requiring a new audience, ‘Electronauts’ that would gladly pay a premium to be a guinea pig. A story about Collectively Engineering ‘The Future Of Mobility’. A story where earned media would dominate. A story of marketing as product development and vice-versa. A story about the future of cities, the future of mobility, the future of BMW and the future of marketing. And a story that includes the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, the CEO of Virgin Galactic, Google’s VP of Consumer Products and a guy with a jet-pack! (perhaps a Pick of the Litter Awards first)

The Initial Brief Create advertising that would make BMW an Electric Vehicle leader. Successfully launch a new product in 2012, and lease 700 vehicles. “Think of what you would do if this were a new company starting up.” And keep the momentum going for at least 2 years as a precursor to the BMW MegaCity Vehicle, the i3.

With Some Challenges: This was a very different BMW compared to the one people knew. We needed to reach beyond the normal BMW customer. We needed to sell a beta-product that would invariably have glitches. It had the highest price-point of an Electric Vehicle, and would only be available on a 12-month lease. We had less than a million dollars. We didn’t have a product yet.

Green Seemed Like An Obvious Starting Point In 2010 the discussion around EVs was in full force. Major car brands were rushing in with their standard media blitzes, promoting their new green consciences. Nissan was touting its new all-green LEAF, using Lance Armstrong, GM was promoting its green credentials via the VOLT, and Tesla was leading the high-end segment with EV sports cars for silicon valley. The charge towards green vehicles was on. Another Green Car? ‘Green-Washing’ seemed to be the strategy du jour and people were beginning to tune it out. Therefore a “green-led” conversation would have limited effect.

What About Sustainability? Sustainability seemed like a viable next option, after all we were talking about the future, ensuring it, protecting, etc…but it had a flaw. “You don’t want your marriage to be sustainable. You want it to be evolving, nurturing, learning.” Mitchell Joachim, Professor of Architecture Columbia University

THE INSIGHT Sustainability – The Enemy Of Progress The ActiveE would be a symbol of progress, not sustainability.

Finding The Right Audience BMW owns the luxury performance sector and has for many years. That customer is focused on performance. We knew that this car was different. It was BMW’s first attempt at an EV and as such we assumed it would run into the typical problems that a beta-product does. There were invariably going to be some glitches. And as such, we needed people with a PIONEER mindset. People who were: experimental, believers, socially active, guinea pigs, beta-testers, a little crazy

NOT A TARGET But PARTICIPANTS: Shaping The Future Of Mobility We called them: ‘ELECTRONAUTS’ Active Participants, Not Just Lessees We called them ‘Electronauts’, because it captured the spirit of exploration and the unknown, and let’s face it, it sounded cool. These people live online, don’t like being told what to think, and thrive on social currency. Their desire for discovery and primacy made it clear that traditional broadcast advertising was the wrong communication model.

Authentically Getting Them Involved We had to meet them in the right places, with the right company. The idea had to earn its own attention and be discovered. We had to get noticed by and garner accolades from publications these people trust.

So We Needed A Strategic Platform That Would: Provide Learnings For The Future Ensure Progress, Not Sustainability Go Beyond The Car Include The ‘Electronauts’ And Give Them A Voice That Meant Thinking About It Differently


COLLECTIVE ENGINEERING Collective Engineering embraced our participants. It changed the dynamic from BMW launching a new product into a market to a launch that all of us could play a role in, where we could all help test, research and design the mobility solutions of the future. It gave our ‘Electronauts’ an active role in creating the future of cities, the future of mobility. It enabled us to spread our message, and allowed our participants to spread our message beyond the drivers. * It gave us a a completely new distribution model for communications.

The Creative Rallying Cry For The Entire Program ACTIVATE THE FUTURE We created a 2-year phased program, rolled out across multiple channels, which precipitated a collaborative conversation that simulated aspects of the EV experience.

Phase 1: Creating a Conversation: Create dialogue / interest in the future of mobility We started creating content; a series of documentaries for the web. We deliberately chose 25 of the most influential voices to share their views on “the Future of Mobility; all of whom were unpaid, volunteer “Electronauts!” We wanted to establish editorial credibility, we didn’t want to buy their endorsement. We wanted to partner with them, have a conversation with them, and most of all have them spread our message for us. While the films are available on all good video sharing sites, BMWActivateTheFuture.com provides an enhanced viewing experience.

Fueling the social conversation: Dedicated Facebook Pages, first-ever BMW North America Twitter handle, ActiveE Tumblr

Multiple ways to participate: Create the conversation, watch the conversation, join the conversation with live Q&A

Phase 2: Tools for Experimentation: Give people the tools to practice and experiment Now that we had people talking about ‘The Future Of Mobility’, it became apparent we needed to give them the tools to be able to fully participate and help with this ‘social experiment.’

Taking On The Big Barrier To EV Adoption Range Anxiety The fear of being stranded in an electric car because of insufficient battery performance – said to be a barrier of sales of electric vehicles Schott’s Vocab

The Irrational Fear Of ‘Range Anxiety’ The fact that most EVs only will go about 100 miles when fully charged was a hurdle we knew we’d have to address, even though most Americans drive on average 40 miles or less per day.

Tools To Assuage ‘Range Anxiety’ BMW Evolve App Enables users to track, record, share and compare their driving patterns, using GPS.

BMW EV Dashboard Embracing contemporary human behaviors, we added the ability for users to be able to earn different badges, which could be shared through Facebook and Twitter, as they learned more about how they drive.

The collective results from these tools will be used to continue engineering the next generation of BMW EVs.

Phase 3: Collective Engineering in Action: The car arrives ActiveE will be available in late 2011, with the data and feedback from Phases 1 and 2 enhancing and optimizing its launch. More importantly, all the data and feedback from the ActiveE experiments are being directly fed into the development process for BMW’s MegaCity Vehicle, the i3 launching in 2013.

The Results So Far... 450,000,000+ PR impressions And Most Importantly, We Have Amassed... 11 times more hand-raisers for the car than we need! ALL BEFORE THE CAR HAS ARRIVED!

This Is Just The Beginning ActiveE has shown us that a car launch can be about more than just the car. The conversations, data, advice, technology, and even the ActiveE itself are all valuable pieces of BMW’s exploration of The Future Of Mobility. This social experiment is continuing as we write this case. ‘Electronauts’ all over the United States are mapping their journeys, spreading the ActiveE message, and eagerly anticipating the arrival of the actual car in late 2011. ActiveE has become a never-ending and worthy experiment in the future of mobility.

BMW ActiveE – A Social Experiment Shaping The Future Of Mobility Links to the documentary:

“Wherever You Want To Go” – The Trailer

“Wherever You Want To Go” – The New City

“Wherever You Want To Go” – The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be

Wherever You Want To Go” – Reinventing Mobility

Wherever You Want To Go” – How We’ll Learn To Stop Worrying And Love The Future

Links To BMW ActiveE Site

The EV Dashboard

ActiveE Facebook

BMW ActiveE Twitter

Download The iPhone EVolve App

Download The Android EVolve App