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BMW Net films go for star power

On the trail of Mercedez-Benz's film featuring actor Benicio Del Toro, BMW Films is casting "Mission Impossible II" director John Woo and Tony Scott, who directed "Spy Game," for a set of Internet short films.

The road for car-marketing one-upsmanship is increasingly being paved on the Web.

Nearly a month after Mercedes-Benz made a marketing splash in the United Kingdom with its commercial-as-movie trailer promotion starring Benicio Del Toro, BMW Films this week announced casting for its latest set of short films to debut online. The abbreviated films are slated to premiere on the BMW Films site in October and will feature directors John Woo, of "Mission Impossible II," and Tony Scott, who directed "Spy Game."

Slick movie-like advertisements are common for carmakers, which are aiming to impress a mood or style for a given car brand. But the Web has become a backdrop for greater creativity and flexibility in marketing campaigns, pushing the boundaries between fantasy and aggressive product sales.

Auto manufacturers such as Ford, Mercedes and BMW have not only taken to short filmmaking but are also pioneering experimentation with "rich media" advertisements, which use animations and interactivity. Nearly 40 percent of all Web ads that automakers create are in rich media technologies such as Flash animation, nearly 10 times more than the industry average, according to a recent report by Nielsen/NetRatings' AdRelevance.

Auto manufacturers are "drawn to the Web because it's sexy, and from a marketing standpoint it has a lot of buzz value," Forrester Research senior analyst Jim Nail said. "It's an extension of the 30-second TV commercial where you show the car on a windy mountain road--car makers love those beauty shots."

The latest BMW advertising installment is a sequel to last year's well-publicized series dubbed The Hire that starred many celebrated directors and actors including Madonna. Once the BMW films shorts debuted, other automakers attempted to ride the bandwagon of fanfare. For example, Ford introduced a "Focus in Film" with entertainment film site AtomFilms last year.

BMW films partnered with RSA USA to launch its latest Internet film series, which are underwritten by BMW and executive produced by entertainment moguls Ridley Scott, Tony Scott and Jules Daly. The three films will center on one character known as The Driver, played by Clive Owen, who recently appeared in "The Bourne Identity."

"The Hire is a concept that invites and challenges a director's imagination," The Hire executive producer Ridley Scott said. "It's great that we are able to partner with BMW on this series, which already has had such an effect on pop culture and has so heavily impacted the world of film and the Internet medium with its award-winning success."

Last year, the short films, which featured work by directors John Frankenheimer ("The Manchurian Candidate") and Ang Lee of Oscar-winner "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," were viewed more than 13 million times from the site.

The series is also drawing copycats.

Last month, Mercedes-Benz, BMW's chief rival, produced a commercial that blurred the lines between filmmaking and marketing. Its commercial portrayed a fictional film called "Lucky Star," starring Del Toro driving a new Mercedes-Benz SL-Class coup in a high-speed car chase. The trailer, at Luckyluckystar.com, gives no hint that the film doesn't exist, even going so far as to say: "Lucky Star, coming soon to a theatre near you. See press for details."