What does BMW have in common with golf and French Laundry? A lot when it's the one in Yountville, Calif., the famed Napa Valley restaurant that caters to the "Sideways" set.
In addition to being a chef, restaurateur and cookbook author, the bistro's owner and chef, Thomas Keller is something of an amateur duffer. "I've played for about seven years," says Keller, who was in Chicago on Thursday during the 2010 BMW Championship golf tournament Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Lemont, Ill.
The Woodcliff Lake, N.J.-based U.S. sales arm of BMW has signed a marketing partnership with Keller, who also owns other restaurants in Napa Valley as well as in Las Vegas, New York and Beverly Hills. The automaker's cars will be part of a concierge service at French Laundry. The deal gives restaurant guests access to a hybrid-version 7-Series car.
Keller, who played in the BMW Championship Pro-Am Tournament that pairs the 70 PGA players in the tourney with amateurs, tells Marketing Daily that he has owned a BMW car for more than three decades. "It's a BMW 320i that I bought in the Seventies, and I have owned the same vehicle since, although I keep it in the garage now [he says he drives a 5-Series wagon]. BMW did a magazine story on that -- and on me -- and they have also done events at the French Laundry," he says.
Keller says he has done other events for BMW recently. His gastronomic inventions were part of the fare at a party in artist Jeff Koons' studio in Manhattan, where the carmaker announced that Koons would be the next artist to paint a Bimmer as part of its "Art Car" series. And Keller says BMW used the restaurant for a Napa Valley press event around BMW's latest Z roadster. "That launched the idea of how we could do a partnership. We came up with the idea of making a car available to guests -- which, for a restaurant is unique in itself."
BMW will not have branding in the restaurant. "It will be very subtle," he says. "There will be an information package on the vehicle in the car if the guest wants to take it, that's really it." Napa Valley is the most-visited destination in California, and the premium wine region in America.
The automaker is also aiming to turn the tourney's pro golfers into BMW advocates and fans by offering them the chance to take an array of BMW cars on a closed-course track with a professional driver at the nearby Autobahn Country Club racetrack in Joliet, Ill.
The effort includes an in-hotel program by Durham, N.C.-based Baldwin&, for whom the campaign is the first work for the automaker as its new golf AOR.
The effort involves visuals affixed to hotel mirrors, head-high, in each golfer's hotel room. The stickers are cutout images of a BMW-branded racing helmet, and below it, the text: "You are invited to feel the joy of driving a BMW," and "Autobahn Country Club Race Track."
"The challenge this year was to get players to notice it," says Jerry Bodrie, the agency's "superconductor" (real title, but equivalent to "direcgtor of account services"). "[PGA players] typically arrive at a hotel and there's a gift basket or package with lots of invites, cards and gifts. After a while they don't pay a whole lot of attention. Our goal was to get the invitation to them in a way they couldn't ignore. They turn the light on in their hotel rooms and there it is."