Q&A with Martin Puris as BMW Ad Campaign Turns 50

Martin Puris
January 31, 2024
BMW Celebrating 50 Years

Ralph Ammirati and Martin Puris are the creative forces behind some of advertising’s most enduring campaigns and have donated their professional catalog to St. John’s University. One of their campaigns, BMW’s iconic and timeless tagline “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” recently turned 50. We spoke to Mr. Puris on what made this tagline iconic and where he sees a once-in-a-generation opportunity for young people to make their own mark in advertising. 

As we celebrate 50 years of “The Ultimate Driving Machine” tagline, what made the phrase so powerful and enduring? 
We took the time back in 1974 to find out the soul of the company—who they were and what they aspired to become. Rather than taking the marketing people out for lunch, we spoke with the engineers and spent months learning what they had created and why.

They’re still that same pure engineer-driven company. The two other agencies in the initial competition completely misunderstood them; they did not understand that a certain segment of the market was waiting for BMW to be invented. They relied on research, and we relied on research plus intuition. The words have endured to this day because they still tell the story of who BMW is. The cars look different, but the ethos and the culture that produces them are still the same.

What qualities or skills do you believe are crucial for success in the field of advertising? 
It’s critical that young people entering the business today recognize that a once-in-a-generation opportunity awaits them. When I got into the business in 1965, a revolution had just begun. Before that, the quality of advertising was appalling, silly, pointless, ineffective, and just plain dumb. Clients were restless. It was time for a change. 

As if on cue, along came Bill Bernbach and his partners Ned Doyle and Max Dane, who formed Doyle Dane and Bernbach (DDB). DDB changed everything. Their work was a breath of fresh air. It was real and full of big, audacious ideas. It was smart and witty and successful. 

Their success gave the rest of us an open field to create new and exciting agencies. Big clients left big agencies to come to us. It started what is now seen as advertising’s Golden Age. Advertising agencies became corporate America’s most valuable marketing partner. 

The very same opportunity exists today. Somewhere upwards of $350 billion will be wasted this year on advertising that’s often dull-witted, at best entertaining, but devoid of anything that resembles a big idea or a great story. That is an opportunity for people who get it and are good enough to make it happen. 

My advice is to study the work produced in the Golden Age. Analyze what it says, how it says it, and why it says it—the stuff that made it famous. Once again, clients are restless. There is a growing realization that the work being produced is an embarrassment. Money and careers are at stake. Things will change—this is your once-in-a-generation opportunity.