Man Bites Dog. That's how I felt hearing late Friday afternoon that BMW North American and Minneapolis ad agency Fallon Worldwide parted ways.
Having written a book about BMW, with a deep-dive into Fallon's work for BMW, I have long considered the work that came out of relationship to be the best in the auto industry, and among the best in any industry. The Internet films, BMWfilms, produced by the partnership was an especially high-water mark for creative and inventive advertising in any category.
Last year, at the Cannes Ad Festival, BMW was named best global advertiser, and Fallon's work was prominently mentioned high up in the press release from the judges.
BMW sales are strong. The company is rolling. The launch of the new 3 Series and 5 Series have been successful in a difficult market in which BMW is under tremendous pricing and profit pressure because of the weak dollar against the euro.
And there is the rub, methinks. Back in the early 1990s, BMW pulled the rug out from under another great ad agency, Ammirati & Puris, because bean-counters were looking for a lower price charged by the ad agency. Ammirati, when asked to compete for the account against other agencies, declined. Adweek named the agency Agency of the Year for standing up to an advertiser and showing some pride. BMW went to Mullen Advertising of Wenham, Mass., and the work that resulted was a disaster.
BMW has a new marketing chief, Jack Pitney, who successfully put BMW's MINI brand on the map in the U.S. with great work from Miami ad agency Crispin Porter+ Bogusky. Pitney asked Fallon to compete in a review against other agencies, and ad industry mensch Pat Fallon said, "No Thanks." My guess is that Fallon won't be out of the car business for very long.
But where BMW winds up with work as good as what Fallon produced is anyone's guess.