BMW was among the first automakers to market its vehicles worldwide with movies made for the Internet. Now it's doing the same thing with comic books.
BMW released a series of eight short films called The Hire between 2001 and 2003. The action thrillers, which run for five to 10 minutes, star British actor Clive Owen as "The Driver."
The otherwise unnamed character defies long odds to complete various missions. They usually involve beautiful women in distress and always include car chases featuring BMWs.
The film series proved so popular that BMW is promoting six comic books that star The Driver. The first two of the six-book series have been released. The rest will appear this year.
Like the movies, the comic books are available online at bmwfilms.com. Dark Horse Comics is publishing print versions that sell for $2.99.
Instead of promoting BMW models as the films do, the comics show The Driver in imaginary concept cars that display the BMW badge.
"Precious Cargo" is set in Detroit. The Driver is assigned to drive a woman named Claire to a waiting plane. A freeway chase with bad guys ensues.
In "Scandal," The Driver shoots it out with a motorcycle gang in a desert to protect Dakota, a spoiled young heiress. The story offers a surprise ending.
BMW executives say the online films and comics are creating interest in BMW vehicles among young consumers around the world.
"The comics were developed to extend the experience of the BMW films," says Karen Vonder Meulen, a spokeswoman for BMW of North America LLC. "We generated great brand awareness in a very cost-effective delivery mechanism."
There have been more than 75 million downloads of The Hire episodes, BMW says. The movies have generated such critical acclaim that they have been released in a DVD collection.
The first five films promoted the entire BMW line. The last three movies feature the Z4 roadster.
BMW hired such A-list filmmakers as John Woo, Ang Lee, John Frankenheimer, Tony Scott, Guy Ritchie and Joe Carnahan to direct the movies. They feature Hollywood stars such as Don Cheadle, Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta and F. Murray Abraham.
Vonder Meulen says BMW does not profit from The Hire. The automaker donates proceeds from the film and comic book sales to charity, she says.
Since BMW debuted The Hire, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Volvo and Buick all have placed their vehicles in movies on the Internet.