Joachim H. Blickhäuser
BMW’s Corporate Identity Officer
The BMW Group has declared its firm commitment to sustainability and conservation of resources—and is accompanying its new corporate direction with a new visual image for its BMW brand. An interview with BMW’s Corporate Identity Officer, Joachim H. Blickhäuser.
Pressure is piling up on the automotive industry. It needs to reinvent itself, and fast. Day-to-day mobility is being transformed by three fundamental changes occurring simultaneously: electric vehicles, autonomous driving, and connected driving. Germany’s diesel scandal has scarcely been digested before a harsher tone has entered the debate over carbon sinners. Competitors are elbowing their way into the market, busily slashing emissions to zero. In this situation, the only result of transformation can be that automotive manufacturing will reinvent itself, this time with greater transparency, greater openness, greater sustainability. A process in which design plays a key role as the most visible sign of change. The new BMW logo takes up the ambitious goals of the company’s strategy. The focus is on transparency; the brand blends into its environment. Will premium become a badge of social and environmental accountability in the future?
In July 2020 Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG, made a surprising announcement: I firmly believe the fight against climate change and how we use resources will decide the future of our society—and of the BMW Group. He set out concrete targets for carbon emissions reduction by 2030 by at least one-third throughout the entire vehicle lifecycle, from supply chain and production to end of life.
Zipse even coupled progress towards sustainability targets with his own pay packet—a completely new approach. While the message may sound like good PR, it is also a clear indicator of the upheaval that has gripped the automotive industry. Change has swept not only the world in general, which is now more connected, but also more vulnerable than ever; change has also overtaken the aims of a successful brand once famous for celebrating the hedonist side of life and the raw growl of engine power. Zipse is now redefining progress: The best cars in the world are sustainable, so that in future the concepts of premium and sustainability will become even more inextricably linked. This corporate call to arms commits the premium auto manufacturer to embracing efficiency and eco-friendliness in every area, from administration and purchasing to development, production and sales and marketing. As part of the process, the BMW brand is receiving a makeover at the same time: the distinctive logo of three letters against a black ground has gone transparent. The world of the customer is becoming part of the brand world.
A logo for the new world
Joachim H. Blickhäuser, whose responsibilities include communication design for the BMW brand, receives us at the Customer and Brand Lab at BMW-Welt. The building is a spiralling whirl of glass and steel—the perfect setting for presenting cars, but seeming somewhat out of place in an age of serious change. We take a seat in a meeting-room with black ceiling and bright strip lighting, a kind of premium lounge furnished with a sofa, Sebastian Herkner’s Bell Table and a huge video screen.
The familiar logo was pretty complex, recalls Blickhäuser with a nod towards the symbol. It was a showcase for special effects; everything that was technologically feasible in 1997 was thrown in—convexity, textured effects, shading. The popular BMW propeller whirled through the world of advertising as a three dimensional badge while Pierce Brosnan remotely controlled a BMW 750 iL with a smartphone—and that was where the connection to the digital world ended. And why not? Times have changed, and so has the way we look at things. Generations Y and Z have absorbed different kinds of socialisation, different conditioning. Fast-paced video cuts demand even faster readability. Logos are responding by becoming simpler. An examination of the top 50 global brands shows a tendency to embrace strong, striking shapes. Nike is the only brand among them that has not changed its logo since the year 2000. 2D logos have always sent out stronger signals, created a more powerful image. And, of course, digital graphics spelt doom for over-elaborate effects. Asked whether the latest change was driven by rough necessity or simply an overdue move to fall into step with a major trend, Blickhäuser replies, We didn’t become trendy. We retained the structure of the BMW logo and kept it as minimalist as possible, and as characteristic as necessary.
The brand specialists have now fundamentally simplified everything to produce a flat design whose impact comes from just two colours—blue and white—inside a transparent ring. This modified imagery is about more than contemporary taste. Its aim is to act as a visual bridge between the brand and its customers’ world. An optimistic Blickhäuser announces, We’re bringing the customers into our brand world. BMW can now treat its logo more playfully and move through different backgrounds, he continues, rendering communication more flexible, more modern and more contemporary. The shift in attitude can be seen most clearly in the positioning of the logo. In the old analogue days, it was simply parked in the image layer of a module, radiating all the superiority of a seal of quality, yet relatively detached from its environment. After all, BMW was BMW. Today our goal is to build relationships with our customers, affirms Blickhäuser. This task is performed by the transparent ring directly in the image layer, communicating hope and, at the same time, the idea that this is where two areas meet, where the customer’s world becomes part of the brand logo.
To express this, BMW has adopted a new term: relationship brand. The Bavarian Motor Works no longer plan to rely solely on their sporty image, their no-holds-barred claim to premium status (more of that later) or their technical superiority. They plan to transform themselves into customer whisperers and establish relationships with people who move through the digital world with natural assurance—and occasionally subject the purpose of companies to close scrutiny. What if customers choose precisely this point to hitch their purchase decision to? Where is the purpose of the company, where is the relationship of the BMW Group to society? Or, in this case: What contribution is being made by the BMW Group to ensure that in future, there will still be people that can afford automobility from an environmental point of view? The brand attitude has changed somewhat from a status-driven mindset to the role of a responsible companion and trailblazer for our customers, is how Blickhäuser expresses the challenge, adding, The purely sports-focused target groups will not be enough for the BMW brand in the future. Pierce Brosnan was an icon of machismo and cool in 1997; today the dominant characteristics are lightness, transparency, digitisation and simplicity, even for a sporty brand like BMW. The old logo from the analogue world was simply not enough.