You may have thought something went wrong with your computer if you went to NYTimes.com Monday only to find the entire screen dimming for no apparent reason.
The screen blackout, which lasted for only a few seconds, was actually part of a one-day home page takeover of the site in connection with BMW's "Efficient-Dynamics" campaign promoting the 335d sedan and X5 xDrive35d crossover.
The cross-media effort is designed to change negative perceptions about diesel-powered cars and highlight improvements to BMW vehicles that reduce carbon emissions by 20%. The jarring home page takeover tied directly into a pair of 30-second TV spots that ran Sunday during the season premiere of AMC's "Mad Men."
The commercials begin in complete darkness with comedian Brian Unger telling viewers that "Americans are always finding ways to be more responsible," before a constellation of energy-efficient light bulbs illuminates a scene showing him standing between the 335d and X5 diesel. As part of the campaign, BMW is offering a $4500 "eco credit," or rebate, on the two cars through August 31.
With the home page takeover on NYTimes.com the next day, the computer screen similarly went dark before the lights come on in a half-page unit on the right side of the page running the same video creative featuring Unger. BMW also initiated a home page take over of MSN.com Tuesday that didn't include the screen-darkening effect.
What made the Times effort especially disorienting is that unlike the TV spots, the ads require users activate the audio via an icon in the corner of the display unit to hear Unger's voiceover. But someone might not figure that out until the ad is finished playing. (It does go back to the start when the sound is turned on.)
If nothing else, the execution achieved a new level of disruption for page takeovers. "BMW was looking for a new, never-been-done-before idea to launch their new Advanced Diesel Online Technology online," explained Times spokesperson Stacy Green. "What we developed was a unique and never-before-done execution on our site."
The takeover was created with BMW's digital creative agency DotGlu, with Universal McCann and GSD&M Idea City handling media buying and planning. Green said the ad was capped at once per user per session for the day and that readers had the opportunity to close the overlay at anytime.
But if Twitter is any barometer of public reaction to the effort, annoyance and anger trumped awe and appreciation. "Big thumbs down to @nytimes for running a BMW ad which darkens the screen, with no apparent/easy way to disable the ad," complained lx69 in one tweet. "That BMW ad on the NYTimes.com home page? Super-annoying," wrote lseward, in another.
David Matathia, vice president and idea team director at GSD&M Idea City, acknowledged the takeovers were edgy. "If some people were put off by that, it's not anything we strive to do -- but we're trying to go out with a big splash to get out the message about BMW's advanced diesel, and that's one way we went about it," he said.
For its part, BMW is pleased with the initial response. BMW North America spokesman Tom Salkowsky said the home page ads on NYTimes.com and MSN were generating strong click-throughs to BMWUSA.com where people can get more information on the company's diesel technology and use a calculator that shows the environmental and economic impact of driving in a year.
He added that BMW has had success in the past with page takeovers, and follows industry best practices in its online campaigns. "We're very respectful of how consumers interact with advertising," he said. "So if people don't like it, they can always close it, or not engage with it."