BMW Design: An Analysis of ‘Joy’ Part 2

Automotive Design 9 Apr 2010
BMW Design: An Analysis of ‘Joy’ Part 2

The second part of an exclusive analysis into ‘Joy’, the subject of BMW’s current global promotional strategy. It aims to delve deeper into the possible meaning of Joy and to discuss how this message may help to make this brand ‘future proof’.

The previous article looked at the possible connections Joy has with important issues such as success and health, as well as an aging population and matters relating to the public’s current interest in the environment.

This article extends the discussion by focusing on how Joy may relate to the need to deliver a consistent core brand message in a time of great change.

It is extremely important for companies to maintain a coherent brand narrative – in his book ‘On Brand’, Wally Olins, the corporate strategy expert, states:

“…Because branding is about creating and sustaining trust, it means delivering on promises. The best and most successful brands are completely coherent. Every aspect of what they are and what they do reinforces everything else.” (p.175)

Adrian Van Hooydonk also hints at this in the interview with referenced in my first article on Joy by stating that (14:58):

One thing of course we have to be aware of is that the products that we make look the same the world over. The world is not the same everywhere thankfully, but our products as a premium manufacturer have to look the same because our customers travel so much. Our customers in China wouldn’t like to find out that a BMW 7-Series in Munich looks totally different from what they just bought.

1987 BMW 750 iLLike many manufacturers, BMW make use of aesthetic cues in order to reinforce their brand identity – indeed in the interview, Adrian Van Hooydonk talks about their engineering precision being expressed through the use of sharp body lines.

Other famous styling features strongly associated with BMW include (amongst others) the Hofmeister Kink at the C-Pillar and a short front overhang coupled with a long rear overhang. The combination of these cues makes for a very recognisable BMW aesthetic.

Furthermore, BMW have consistently used certain well publicized technical specification cues, the first of which is a longitudinally mounted engine.

The engine of choice for BMW has been the ‘Straight-6 since 1933 – it is one of the few remaining manufacturers to still use this type of power plant.

This is a sign that it very much believes in the value of heritage and coherency – BMW currently offers the Straight-6 on every model it manufactures (apart from the present ‘M’ range).

Under the heading “Straight Success (note the emphasis on success highlighted in the first article on Joy) BMW states on the Z4 engine:

Why does a roadster have an elongated bonnet? To accommodate six cylinders in a row. This is because only straight six-cylinder engines provide the perfect combination of weight and power coupled with dynamic balance and sophisticated smoothness.”

Therefore, the presence of a long bonnet on a BMW provides a visual clue as to the nature and orientation of the engine positioned beneath it. It is not too much of an assumption to suggest that for BMW, manufacturers building vehicles with a short bonnet will have compromised on the type of engine, its layout and therefore performance.

As this promotional video tells us, rear-wheel-drive is the second discernable mechanical characteristic of a BMW:

According to BMW, the front wheels should steer the car whilst the rear wheels must provide the drive. This combination is responsible for creating ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’. BMW use this arrangement in all their vehicles (apart from of course on their 4X4s).

The video above shows an Audi and a BMW trying to complete the same task, and as it is a promotional exercise, the Audi is ‘bound to come second.’ In essence this is an example of the time honoured ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ as set out in the book Brand Immortality by Hamish Pringle and Peter Field.

This notion relies on promoting the superior functions of a product €“ indeed the authors quote Robin Wight, co-founder of the advertising agency WCRS:

“You’ve got to interrogate the product until it confesses to its strengths.€ (p.94)

This video features a relatively pedestrian explanation of the perceived benefits of rear-wheel-drive, but the images containing the rabbit and the frog come from a fantastic Turkish printed BMW campaign from 2006 (images kindly provided by TBWA, Istanbul) €“ the underlying message is familiar, but the impact is far more powerful and introduces a striking and more up to date emotional element.

BMW RabbitBMW Frog

This time-honoured BMW approach has served the brand well, but major manufacturers are of course currently focusing on developing hybrid or electric vehicles. As a result of this, it is interesting to ask how much relevance the BMW blueprint for enabling the ultimate driving experience has as we begin to move into a new era in automotive design.

Efficient Dynamics

Vision EfficientDynamics conceptThe Vision EfficientDynamics concept first shown at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show is BMW’s showcase into a sustainable future.

Although full of very innovative features and striking details, its overall exterior profile silhouette is really not all that far removed from, for example a 2004 3-Series Coupe as it features a low front end, a sharply raked windscreen and a high rear end.

BMW 325 Ci CoupeAs such, the visual cues, so important in maintaining brand identity (and an all-important sense of cohesion) are there, albeit with a very progressive twist.

But the fact that this vehicle breaks the BMW rule book can be evidenced by liberal use of the colour blue suggesting electric power and sustainability and a more cab forward appearance generated by a prominent divide in the bonnet.

The reduction of the perceived length of the bonnet breaks with tradition, and with the above Z4 promotional copy in mind, it seems evident that this feature is a strategically placed visual clue suggesting the absence of a longitudinally mounted engine.

Vision EfficientDynamics instead contains a pair of electric motors, one on each axle and a 3-cylinder engine at the rear which ‘kicks in’ when extra power is required.

Furthermore, although the following video provided by BMW explains the drive train for the Vision EfficientDynamics concept, it does not concentrate its efforts on commending the virtues of rear-wheel-drive.

For a brand built on maintaining such a strong and longstanding definition of what constitutes a great driving experience, this fact perhaps signifies a departure regarding the message it is trying to convey.

In ‘Brand Immortality’, Pringle & Field claim that future threats (and opportunities) to existing brands come from many sources, a key one (p.254) being environmental issues. Manufacturers have spotted this and are working hard to rise to the challenge – this will require adaptation and for some it will mean having to break with certain very important and long standing traditions.

In BMWs case, removal of brand defining cues may result in ambiguity regarding what it stands for and represents. As such, there may be a need for the brand to reinvent itself in order to deliver an augmented message. In ‘On Brand’, Olins writes:

“When you invent a brand there is no business, nobody works for it, there isn’t an office, you start literally with a blank sheet of paper. But when you reinvent a brand it’s quite different; there already exists a culture, a tradition, an attitude and a reputation, often a very longstanding one.€ (p.186)

Surely aware of this, Adrian Van Hooydonk tries to assure customers in the Vision EfficientDynamics video that this vehicle will (01:08):

“…Perform like you would expect from a BMW€¦It will have acceleration like an M3 for example.€

It does seem logical however to argue that if certain inputs are to be removed, and the recipe is to be altered, then the output must change too. In BMW’s case, if the technical cues responsible for delivering a signature performance are no longer in place, then it follows that the performance must change accordingly. Therefore an electric or hybrid BMW can not, by definition, perform like one would expect from a regular BMW.

Added to this, because hybrid or indeed electric vehicle propulsion is new to the vast majority of vehicle owners, the benchmark for how this type of vehicle should perform have not yet been set – there simply has not yet been enough time or opportunity for the consumer to decide whose system is the best. Therefore, if the vehicle industry is about to enter a new era, then why would a more sustainable BMW necessarily be any faster, smoother, have greater traction or more balance than, say, a Renault ZE vehicle?

Front Wheel Drive

To extend this discussion further, on Dec 2nd 2009, reported on the possible packaging of the next BMW 1-Series:

“Nothing is concrete at this stage but discussions are on-going about whether or not BMW should break with the tradition of rear and four-wheel-drive cars,€ said a BMW source. “For many in this company it is a taboo subject. But we have to be realistic with the targets we have set ourselves for fuel consumption and emissions, and they clearly favour a front-wheel-drive solution for 2018.€

The fact that front-wheel-drive is a difficult subject to contemplate for BMW employees is evidenced by Olins, who writes:

The best brands have a consistency which is built up and sustained inside the organization by people who are immersed in what the brand stands for.” (p.175)

So, if the reinvention of BMW is really on the cards and is to succeed, employees must be convinced that the vision of the future is palatable and, in the long run, key to its longevity. Perhaps even more importantly, BMW must convince customers that the chosen path will not affect their image of it adversely. This notion is underlined by Pringle and Field in ‘Brand Immortality’:

Products are made and owned by companies. Brands on the other hand, are made and owned by people…by the public…by consumers…A brand image belongs not to a brand, but to those who have knowledge of that brand. (p.22-23).

Joy is BMW

Returning to the ‘Joy Is BMW‘ commercial, the inspiration for these two articles:

This commercial shows illustrious cars from the past, for example the 507 and the Z1, current production vehicles and what is presented as showcasing the brand’s future, the G.I.N.A concept.

The use of this time-line reinforces the likelihood that BMW is a company which is very proud of maintaining and continuing its enviable lineage and promoting a coherence that consumers will be able to trust in and appreciate.

BMW Z1 BMW 507

The cars of the past and those of the present feature important aesthetic cues and the time-honoured and benchmarked combination of a front-mounted longitudinal engine and rear-wheel-drive (except of course for the 4X4s). This helps to link them together and creates a bond which strengthens the identity of the brand €“ furthermore, this connection allows the phrase ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine‘ to continue to have meaning and to be upheld.

If, however, important cues underpinning this association are to be removed, then it follows that the link is also broken and so too perhaps the perceived relevance of ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’.

For this reason it seems very logical to introduce a new core message which can be used to bind the past, present and future together, one which is inclusive enough to allow major upheavals to take place.

Perhaps this is a major contributing factor explaining why the emphasis on Drive has been replaced by a focus on Joy.

The ‘Joy’ campaign may be seen as an example of what Pringle & Field refer to as ‘The Subscription Selling Proposition‘ in that:

“…It asks people to sign up to the campaign, either literally or metaphorically, and thus it creates a deeper level of engagement and commitment amongst users who subscribe to it.” (p.102)

In the case of the current global BMW campaign, this means subscribing to the principal (or indeed the Ideal) of Joy and all the perceived benefits discussed in my first article on the subject. Signing up also of course necessitates being prepared to stay with the brand as it adapts to meet the needs of the 21st Century, for example ’sustainability’ and ‘mega-city life’, in order to continue reaping the rewards.

So, perhaps Joy is a very well timed measure predicting and at the same time diffusing the impact of the change that BMW might be about to go through – with this in mind, it could be said that ‘Joy’ may be a form of insurance. The following commercial, titled ‘Joy Is Futureproof’ has a very simple narrative, but perhaps its intrinsic message evidences this notion.

Furthermore, it could perhaps be said the Joy campaign is a very good example of how a brand might react to the 21st Century corporate imperatives of environmental responsibility, ethical treatment of people and of course financial turnover. Together, these are often referred to as ‘The Triple Bottom Line’.

Unlike certain other sectors, the automotive industry is not highlighted as being associated with the mistreatment of people, so in BMW’s case, the ethical treatment of humans making up a third of the new bottom line can perhaps be seen to constitute a very special service provided to their customers for as was noted in the first article, subscribing to Joy allegedly facilitates the journey to a healthier and more successful (and therefore more fulfilling) life.

‘Joy’ then is a very complicated and fascinating puzzle. It possibly relates to ambition, health and the willingness to succeed as well as experience, lifestyle and a sense of community. It perhaps also has connections with exterior and interior form and proportion, and of course the imperatives of sustainability and providing a coherent brand message. In essence it may be responsible for ensuring the longevity of a very prestigious and distinguished maker of automobiles.

Joy, it appears, is indeed BMW.

About the Author

Aysar Ghassan is a Snr Lecturer in Transportation Design & Design For Industry at Northumbria University. His interests includeform, branding and semiotics.

Contact details:


Image Gallery

Related Stories

Volkswagen ID.7

Volkswagen ID.7 – Design Sketches

The official design sketches of the Volkswagen ID.7, the E-segment all-eletric sedan launched in 2023.
BMW X5 M and X6 M / Competition: the design

BMW X5 M and X6 M / Competition: the design

BMW has revealed the M and Competition versions of the X5 and X6, powered by a 625 hp V8 engine. They will make their debut at the LA Auto Show in November.
IAAD announces Design Talk with Dave Amantea in partnership with Art Center

IAAD announces Design Talk with Dave Amantea in partnership with Art Center

For their newly formed academic partnership, IAAD. and ArtCenter College of Design have launched “9649 Design Talks”. The first event - open to the public - is a talk by Pininfarina Chief Design Office Davide Amantea. The talk takes place...


Leave a Comment


Get all the updates with our weekly newsletter!

Find a Car

Scroll To Top
Scroll To Bottom