With only eleven days of operating cash left, their plan of starting an agency with a sizable, respected client list seemed to be quietly slipping beneath the waves, and then the phone rang.
On the line was BMW, inviting Ammirati & Puris to join two large, well-established agencies in a creative shootout in Munich. While on their journey in economy, Mr. Ammirati and Mr. Puris made the surprising realization that the key figures from rival agencies in the pitch were also on the same flight, seated comfortably in first class.
“After the pitch, Ammirati & Puris returned to New York and checked out of the Delmonico for good, their plan and their first client, BMW, in hand.” - Ammirati & Puris
The campaign they pitched was called: "The Ultimate Driving Machine”.
Introduced in the 1970s, the theme line “Ultimate Driving Machine” not only transformed the BMW brand but also propelled Ammirati & Puris as an agency that would revolutionize the advertising landscape. After seeing their Fiat campaigns, Bob Lutz, the former Executive Vice President of BMW Global Sales and Marketing decided to work with Ammirati & Puris to redefine BMW’s brand, but the account didn’t come easy.
At the time, BMW had only limited sales in the United States, and the brand lacked a distinctive identity. “People didn't know anything about the cars. Or they mistook it for the British Motor Works. And if you put it side by side next to a Cadillac, or Lincoln, which were the luxury car standards of the day and luxury being defined by cost. It didn't look anything like those things.” Martin recalls how they “put it (BMWs) in parking lots and country clubs… people said, You gotta be joking. You're kidding, right? So it had to be redefined. If you read the research, the market for BMW, were old guys smoking cigars, and country clubs. That was what the research would tell you. But we said, "hold on a second, I think we just feel that there's something sweeping this country and other countries by the way around the world. We call them affluent activists.” It was the beginning of the physical fitness and eating right trends in America and Ammirati & Puris saw that a car is a personal expression of one’s self.
“We'll sell it to our own generation, the ones who love engineering and performance, people looking for a personal relationship with their mechanics. We'll call them 'Affluent Activists' when we pitch the account, and we'll call the product 'The Ultimate Driving Machine.' - Martin Puris
A crucial factor that set Ammirati & Puris apart from other pitching agencies and secured the account was their unique approach. Rather than aligning with the marketing team, they dedicated time to engaging with the engineers and spent weeks in Munich, gaining profound insights into BMW's essence and the pivotal role of performance for both the car and the brand. This exploration led to the realization that the true symbol of status was under the hood, not on it, ultimately becoming the central message for BMW's subsequent ad campaign. The basic premise was extraordinary performance alone makes an expensive car worth money, and the “Ultimate Driving Machine” was the articulation of the promise.
“It's the purest product I've ever had to deal with. I mean, they're still building the same car that they were, you know in 1974. In the heart of it is a driver's car.” - Martin Puris on the performance mantra of BMW still true to this day.
Their unique strategy worked. After landing the account business, the BMW brand emerged as a status symbol of a generation of consumers and helped Ammirati & Puris become one of the leading agencies of their time. When it came to the campaign’s success metrics, the numbers didn’t lie. When Ammirati & Puris launched “The Ultimate Driving Machine” campaign for BMW in 1974 the German car maker was selling 13,000 cars a year in the US. Ten years later, annual sales topped 90,000.
The “Ultimate Driving Machine” tagline perfectly describes BMW as cars that were incredible in performance and design. It positioned BMW and took it from an agency with nothing on the books to billing $7.9 Billion at the height of its success. In December 2024, the “Ultimate Driving Machine” will be 50 years old. The slogan has lasted the test of time. Why? It still expresses the heart and soul of BMW. It’s both a statement of purpose and a promise. It endures because it is still the very essence of who BMW is. BMW was not only a successful campaign but it became a model for the way the agency approached all their clients.