German car giant BMW has come under fire over a controversial social media advert for its new flagship electric car that gratuitously insults the post war baby boomer generation which makes up the core of its well-heeled customers.
Critics have reacted angrily to a post on Twitter for its new flagship iX electric sports activity vehicle – the subject of a major global launch this month before going on sale next year priced from around £85,000.
The Munich-based car-maker appears to have shot itself in the foot with a tweet that’s been widely considered ill-judged and abusive towards its own customers, mocking the baby boomer generation with the term of insult and derision: ‘OK, Boomer’.
Bad taste: BMW has been slammed by many on social media for posting a response to a YouTube comment about its new flagship EV with the quip: ‘OK, boomer’, which will offend tone of he German brand’s biggest customer demographics
If the online outrage translates into cancelled or unplaced orders, as some readers have threatened, it could cost the firm millions in lost sales.
But as well as criticism on social media, Germany’s respected newspaper ‘Die Welt’ has taken up the cudgels, telling its readers: ‘OK, Boomer. BMW insults its best customers, of all things.’
Critics questioned whether BMW was about to experience a ‘Ratners moment’ – so-called after the time British jewellery boss Gerald Ratner dismissed the products his stores were selling as ‘crap’ – causing customers to desert his shops and leading ultimately to the chain going out of business.
Causing the controversy is a post on Twitter from the German car firm’s official @BMW account. It shows a photograph of the interior of the new electric flagship iX and challenges the reader: ‘OK, Boomer. And what’s your reason not to change.’
It is reference to a nearby YouTube text saying ‘Go back to making BMWs’ – a criticism sometimes levied by critics at the firm’s modern cars which feature giant cartoon-like grilles.
The clear implication is that the baby boomer generation – born from 1946 to 1964 – are a bunch of ultra-conservative stick-in-the mud fuddy-duddies resistant to change – a description which in reality could not be farther from the truth.
The tweet was sent in response to a YouTube comment saying ‘Go back to making BMWs’ – a criticism sometimes levied by critics at the firm’s modern cars which feature giant cartoon-like grilles
Causing the controversy is a post on Twitter from the German car firm’s official @BMW account. It shows a photograph of the interior of the new electric flagship iX and challenges the reader: ‘OK, Boomer. And what’s your reason not to change’
The flagship iX SUV will cost £85,000 and have a 376-mile range to take on the might of Tesla
Ironically, the new BMW iX was launched online to the world by BMW’s chief executive Oliver Zipse – who at 56 and having been born in February 1946 is himself a tail-end baby-boomer – with the help of two Oscar winning baby boomer actors Chrisoph Walz and movie composer Hans Zimmer.
Some suspected the tweet was designed to be ‘cool and edgy’ but instead it provoked an immediate online backlash, with some saying it made them ‘cringe.’
Angry responses to the BMW tweet…
Justin Lewis said: ‘BMW is alienating its boomer clientele.’
And @formtrends observed: ’Ha. That’s so spot on. Unfortunately the US is only the SECOND biggest market in the world. Got to get your priorities right. Boomer.’
Jerry Jonson said: ‘It’s your job to change for your customer base. Not your customers job to change for a god awful design you released. Your vehicles have been looking more and more like trash for years.’
Another Twitter user said: ‘OK BMW, i will change: My next car isn’t a BMW but a Tesla. And I don’t think it is a good idea to offend the customers.’
Nick Gallant said: ‘@BMW have completely lost it. The new design language is hideous and now you’re attacking your customers?!?’
Charlie Stephenson said: ‘ ‘Not a boomer personally, but think this is the most bone-headed bit of marketing I’ve seen in quite some time.’
Another noted: Do the young folks in charge in Munich know about this new style of marketing you are trying to go with? Divisive and insulting?’
And another said; ‘Sadly, it’s boomers and Gen Xers that can afford a new BMW. Good luck cornering the “wealthy millennials”. Clue – there aren’t any.’
Richard Aucock, chairman of Britain’s prestigious Guild of Motoring Writers posted: ’Do you always talk to your customers like this? Outrageous.’
He added later: ’I’m still annoyed by that unnecessarily antagonistic @bmw tweet. I’m amazed it’s still up, to be honest.’
Motoring commentator Alex Goy commented: ’The median age of a BMW customer is 56 in the US. The youngest a baby boomer can be is 56,’ before adding sarcastically: ’So only half the customer base has been alienated.’
After being inundated with angry responses from commentators and customers alike, the official BMW account followed-up the tweet with another saying: ‘No matter what age you are, we hear you. We are sorry, it wasn’t our intention to insult anyone with meme slang. The way into the new world of mobility is bumpy, but we hope you join us on the journey.’
Despite the efforts to throw water on the heated conversation – which BMW still has yet to delete – the respected German newspaper ‘Die Welt’ (The World) catalogued a string of angry retorts from potential BMW buyers furious at the firm blaming ‘baby boomers’ for what they say are ‘ugly’ modern BMW cars.
It set out how BMW, in its post, had listed some of the criticisms that its customers had levelled at its electric cars: that they didn’t look ‘normal’; that they looked like ‘a cheap science fiction film of the ‘80s’ and that they were ‘cold and sterile’ without any heart.
The BMW advert then sought to demolish such criticisms with the strapline: ‘OK, Boomer. And what’s your reason not to change?’
But in its own report, Welt (The World) said of BMW’s social media advert :’The message is clear. Only a narrow-minded stick-in-the mud would criticise this car because they can’t recognise the genius of the design.’
BMW sent a grovelling apology to readers three days after the original post had caused a stir among commentators and customers
But then die Welt too listed the backlash from potential customers who took umbrage at BMW’s attitudes and design .
One said: ’What’s my reason for not changing? Because I’m not blind.’
Another warned: ’Why are you trying to destroy your brand?’
One German Twitter user told BMW: ‘You would be better off analysing why so many people don’t like your designs, instead of just trying to sweep it away.’
Another noted: ’The BMW iX is so unbelievably ugly, you recognise that yourselves by the way you use your critical commentary in your advert.’
And one described the iX itself in superlative terms: ’Speechless. Ugly, uglier, iX . The worst design I have ever seen.’
Last year the BMW Group – which includes MINI in Oxford, Rolls-Royce at Goodwood, and the Hams Hall engine plant in the Midlands – sold over 2.5 million passenger vehicles and more than 175,000 motorcycles worldwide. It already builds the electric MINI-e at Oxford and Rolls-Royce has announced it is to build a fully electric limousine within a decade.
BMW’s slip is certainly not the first time car giants have tripped up on social media or with foot-in-mouth messaging.
Volkswagen is currently under fire over an online advert deemed ‘sexist’ by critics for suggesting only dads know about cars.
It also was forced to apologise for a social media film showing a black man near a new VW Golf being flicked away by a giant hand.
The boss of VW was also under fire for referring in a speech to their ‘final solution’. During the war the firm used slave labour.
VW’s German arm also criticised for advertising a special edition model which it called a ‘Black Up!. More savvy and culturally-sensitive VW bosses in the UK changed the name to ‘Up! Black’.
Some years ago Ford got into trouble when it changed the ethnic faces of its workforce on a brochure to white faces – arguing it better reflected the make-up of its Polish staff. It too apologised.
Baby boomer generation explained
Baby Boomers are the demographic cohort generally defined as people born from 1946 to 1964 during the post–World War II baby boom.
They follow the so-called stoical ‘Silent Generation’ which endured two world wars, but precede Generation X, Millennials, and the current Generation Z – known as ‘Zoomers’ because of their love of hi-tech gadgets – who have grown up as a relatively large cohort but without knowing life without the internet and social media.
The phrase ‘OK, Boomer’ is deployed as a term of insult by younger people towards the immediate post-war generation which so transformed society and attitudes, giving rise to pop groups like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and The Who, ‘teenagers’, as well as more liberal attitudes towards sex, drugs, religion and fashion.
It was also the energetic, creative, and hard-working generation which capitalised on the booming property market, which has given rise to a degree inter-generational antagonism and envy from younger people today who struggle to get on the housing ladder.
In return, the socially-conscious younger generation have been dubbed ‘snowflakes’ because of their apparent speed at taking ‘offence’, inability to cope with criticism, or deal with the sometimes harsh but everyday realities of modern life.