‘Joy’ agency GSD&M Idea City splits with BMW North America

BMW’s ‘Joy’ campaign for BMW (sample line Joy is BMW) has long been controversial, even more so when a year ago BMW decided to take it global, thereby forcing local shops like WCRS in the UK to run versions of the campaign.

Why so controversial? It just didn’t seem very car-like, particularly Teutonic automobile-like.

Maybe that was the point, BMW guided by North America marketing boss Jack Pitney was just trying to get the brand to lighten up a bit. But it still didn’t seem right.

But Pitney died tragically in a tractor accident at his holiday farm in the US in August and, without his support (he backed the campaign publicly on a number of occasions) client and agency have decided to part. Austin-based GSD&M handled BMW in the States for five years.

Marketing VPs are clearly pretty important in the US car business, as Joel Ewanick’s reign at General Motors also indicates.

Which means that lots of other agencies will be dusting off their global car credentials. One such will be WCRS, for years effectively the lead agency on BMW (it produced the line ‘the ultimate driving machine’). WCRS doesn’t have an operation in the US but is now part of ambitious marcoms group Engine which has recently raised £62.5m to expand internationally and bought US digi agency Deep Focus.

It would be more than happy to open an office and hire a few Americans to handle BMW’s $140m account.

WPP’s Grey has some BMW business in the US and might be a contender. WPP’s O&M and JWT have Ford duties around the world while its RKCR/Y&R handles Jaguar in the UK, about as direct a competitor as you could have. Sir Martin Sorrell is probably on the phone to Munich as we write.

BMW sales are soaring in the States which GSD&M will no doubt see as a vindication of its Joy campaign, and of Pitney’s marketing leadership of course.

But the carmaker would probably do even better with something else.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.