The automaker, which was once derided for installing an entertainment system that was exceedingly difficult and distracting to use, is trying to convince people to use technology responsibly.
Developed by Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, the "DON'T TXT AND DRIVE" commercial juxtaposes the overprotective parent with the negligent act of texting at the wheel. Vignettes appear on the screen of a father bathing his child (wearing swimmies so he won't drown) and a mother lathering sanitizer all over her child's hands and arms. And yet at least one of the parents gets behind the wheel with a child in the back seat and starts texting.
"Parents are so doting of their young children in terms of the care and attention and what we do to protect our kids," said Trudy Hardy, the manager of BMW North America's marketing communications and consumer events. "But all of that can be undone in just one second."
The spots began airing mid-June.
The print ads have a similar gravity and intent to play on heart strings.
In one, a texting driver's cellphone blocks the view of a child running.
A pixilated version of the child's shape appears on the phone, blending in with the information on the screen. A ball appears in view from the windshield. Others obscure a deer in the road and truck turning in from a side street, suggesting the preoccupied driver is about to crash.
The print ads will appear in car magazines like AutoWeek, sports magazines like Golf Digest, and influencer books like Vanity Fair and The Economist.
BMW is also doing homepage takeovers where the words "Text Messaging Is Distracting" invades the screen before dissolving into a "Don't Txt And Drive" banner.
Is Texting An Epidemic?
The campaign was borne out of a December 2010 meeting between Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Jim O'Donnell, CEO of BMW North America. LaHood has been talking to automakers, asking them to step up and help control the distracted driving problem.
"Distracted driving of any kind, especially texting while driving, is an extremely dangerous activity that costs thousands of lives every year," said O'Donnell. "We developed this campaign to be impactful in hopes of evoking emotion and conveying the serious dangers of distracted driving and its potential consequences."
The U.S. Department of Transportation says nearly 5,500 people died in crashes in 2009 involving a distracted driver. The National Safety Council estimates that each year 100,000 car crashes have been tied to texting and driving while an additional 1.2 million annual accidents involve cell phone use.
And other studies suggest texting while driving is the equivalent of drinking while driving.
Professor David Meyer, who runs the University of Michigan's Brain, Cognition, and Action Laboratory and is a leading scholar of multitasking, says human beings are just not good at multitasking.
We simply cannot do it safely, he said. Even F-1 race car driver Michael Schumacher can't deal with more than one task at a time
The iDrive Problem
BMW developed a bad reputation in the previous decade for its iDrive system, which forced drivers to scroll through menus to do basic tasks, like changing the radio station. Although many drivers got used to the system, it took drivers' eyes off the road too often. The automaker was roundly criticized for iDrive.
Now in its fourth generation, the iDrive system is much more intuitive. It is less distracting and easier to use.
The system is designed to occupy only two seconds of a driver's attention to make a decision. Three lines of text is the limit for the screen. And drivers can ignore the screen at any time and focus on something more important, like actually driving.
A lot of information is also transmitted through the heads-up display, which is projected onto the windshield so drivers can keep their eyes on the road.
Tom Baloga, vice president of engineering for BMW North America, says it's inevitable that people will bring their cellphones and social media into the car. So the automaker is trying to design around that.
"It is a fine balance," Baloga said. "We understand the world we live in and we realize people want to stay connected. So we're using our research and our technology to integrate the connections to stay connected in a safe manner so that [the driver's] eyes are on the road."