BMW Launches Controversial "Big Brother" Billboards Targeting Owners of Old Cars

Published December 24th, 2020 - 10:30 GMT
BMW Launches Controversial "Big Brother" Billboards Targeting Owners of Old Cars
The signs are designed to flash-up the benefits of a BMW extended warranty. (Shutterstock)
BMW launches a new 'marketing initiative' in the UK using interactive billboards

BMW has announced plans for a new Big Brother 'marketing initiative' in the UK, using interactive billboards that can identify when a customer in one of its older cars is nearby, and flashes up targeted adverts for its extended warranties.

It says the signs use 'Vehicle Detection Technology' that can trigger 'highly personalised, real time content' when a 'handpicked vehicle type is directly in sight of the roadside screen'.

The move has sparked outrage among customers and automotive commentators, who have raised concerns about the technology being used.

Experts at website Motoring Research said the signs could be used to 'name and shame' drivers, while others on social media said it could breach privacy laws.

The marketing ploy has been drawn up by BMW and Allianz Partner UK to boost extended warranty sales.

The interactive billboards will be located in London, Birmingham, Newcastle and Manchester.

They will be installed at traffic lights on major roads and only display the information to owners when the Vehicle Detection Technology (VDT) recognises the car is stationary at a red light. 

BMW says that when any of its cars over 35 months drive up, the signs leap into action with 'highly personalised, real time content' that's 'only triggered when a handpicked vehicle type is directly in sight of the roadside screen'.

Some reports had suggested the system could identify if an older BMW has an approved warranty and only displays the ads to owners of these cars. 

A BMW spokesman told This is Money: 'Vehicle Detection Technology is proprietary technology of Ocean Outdoor that uses a mixture of anonymised third party data sources from the automotive industry to trigger content more relevant to the make or model of vehicle that has stopped at the lights. 

'The VDT does not have access to any personal data, including warranty status.'  

Announcing the interactive billboards, Steve Cann, insurance provider manager for BMW Financial Services said: 'Our customers expect an elevated level of customer service and personalised digital marketing is just one way in which we can engage with them at this expected level. 

'Tailored billboard messaging is a unique way of engaging with BMW owners outside of their homes that we hope will leave a memorable impression.'

Liz Grindell, head of warranty at Allianz Partners UK added that the initiative 'brings together digital marketing expertise and product innovation, is an exciting opportunity to reach prospective customers on the move, during a time when physical interaction is restricted.'

The adverts will be used despite the fact many owners of older BMWs could already have an approved extended warranty, or similar products available from specialist providers such as MotorEasy and Warrantywise - or have separate savings to cover the cost of car repairs if required. 

The move has sparked outrage and anger among drivers online over concerns that the Big Brother-style signs will be a breach of privacy if the billboards identify specific drivers known to not have warranties.

One motorist posted: 'The arrogance is breathtaking.'

Another said: 'BMW once again showing that they have a tremendous grasp on what the public want and how they deserve to be treated. Someone really needs to sit BMW down, give it a slap and tell it it's drunk and to come back when it's sober.'

One commentator added that the need for the billboards 'kinda also implies BMWs are so unreliable they necessitate a warranty'.

BMW reiterated to This is Money that the tech will not name the driver or display information about their specific vehicle, with the signs promised to only show ads for approved BMW warranty products. 

It's the second time in a just over a month that BMW has sparked a furious response from its customers online, as drivers reacted angrily to a Twitter post from the German car giant last month.

The brand sent a response tweet to a YouTube comment made about its new flagship iX electric SUV,  mocking the baby boomer generation with the term of insult and derision: ‘OK, Boomer’ - despite individuals born in the 'Baby Boomer' generation from 1946 to 1964 making up around half of the car maker's existing customer base. 

As well as receiving a storm criticism on social media, Germany’s respected newspaper ‘Die Welt’ also took up the cudgels, telling its readers: ‘OK, Boomer. BMW insults its best customers, of all things.’ 

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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