BMW 330e comes for Tesla Model 3 in new ads: Does it miss?

August 10, 2016

Traditionally, BMW's biggest rivals have been luxury automakers with massive market share--companies like Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. In press releases and news articles, those are the companies to which BMW compares itself and its sales.

But a new pair of BMW ads takes aim at a much, much smaller player in the automotive ecosystem: Tesla Motors.

The two clips are part of a campaign dubbed "Waiting". They poke fun at consumers who shell out thousands of dollars in downpayments for upcoming models without seeing final production designs, or even knowing when they'll receive their new car.

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The ads don't mention Tesla by name, but really, they don't have to. Last spring, Tesla made headlines when it unveiled a pre-production prototype of the upcoming Model 3 sedan. In short order, well over 300,000 potential customers--closer to 400,000 now--each put down $1,000 refundable deposits for the car, although it's not expected to arrive until the end of 2017.

And just in case viewers don't remember all that, one of the ads prominently features a couple of Tesla-ish charging stations.

Does BMW succeed?

BMW swings pretty hard at Tesla. But do the ads hit home?

Yes and no.

Yes, they do a good job of highlighting the uncertainty involved in Tesla's production process--a process that has consistently resulted in delayed deliveries. Even at the best of times, Tesla's assembly lines haven't been able to keep up with demand, leaving some eager buyers in the lurch. (In fairness, the company is ramping up production capacity, which should improve the situation dramatically.) 

The ads also poke a bit of fun at Tesla's would-be owners and their willingness to shell out big bucks for something they haven't actually seen. Though we've been told that the prototype of the Model 3 displayed in April was very nearly the final design, there will certainly be tweaks. Could some of those tweaks put off potential buyers, even at the Model 3's anticipated sticker price around $35,000? Probably.

So, for people on the fence, debating whether to go for the Tesla Model 3, sight unseen, or the BMW 330e, which can be found in showrooms today, the ads may very well be enough to win over consumers.

However, people don't always buy products simply because they're available. They buy them because they believe in the brand, and they feel a certain affinity with the company. Sure, at the grocery store, you might opt for the store-brand flour over the brand-name version, but when it comes to products like luxury automobiles, brands makes a difference.

And that's where these ads fall flat. BMW comes to the table with a long, complicated history. It produces beautiful cars, to be sure, but the brand has a reputation for attracting bros and jerks. Turn on almost any movie: if someone's driving a BMW, they're probably not the hero of the story.

Tesla, on the other hand, is a newcomer and an underdog. And it's led by a massively charismatic CEO, Elon Musk. When people shell out for a Tesla, they're not just buying a car, they're buying a place on Team Elon.

And of course, that's to say nothing at all about the BMW 330e plug-in hybrid. While its 72 MPGe is impressive, the 330e still runs on gas. Many people drawn to Tesla want one of the company's vehicles because it's fully electric.

Bottom line: The clips strike a nice balance between being attack ads and being about the 330e. BMW fans will almost certainly like them, as will a few consumers stuck in the middle. But people attracted to the Tesla name aren't likely to budge.

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