BMW’s Super Bowl Pick for Selling EVs: Schwarzenegger

Source: By Ira Boudway, Bloomberg • Posted: Wednesday, February 9, 2022

The company’s commercial for its new SUV features the former California governor and Salma Hayek.

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Zeus 
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Zeus. Source: BMW

If electric vehicle commercials were 1980s action films, Arnold Schwarzenegger would be, well, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The former governor/Terminator will be at it again this weekend, plugging BMW’s new plug-in, the iX SUV, during the Super Bowl. In the 60-second spot, Schwarzenegger plays a grumpy Zeus (“the God of Lightning”), wiling away retirement in Palm Springs, occasionally charging the neighbors’ golf carts and hedge trimmers. Hera, played by Salma Hayek, surprises him with the BMW and — spoiler alert — his mood improves.

“I always said ‘We have to create a movement,’” Schwarzenegger told Bloomberg Green. “So I would push alternative fuel vehicles from here to eternity.”

BMW Arnold Salma Superbowl commerical
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Salma Hayek both said they were drawn to the BMW project because of its potential climate impact. Source: BMW

Electric vehicles are swiftly moving beyond early adopters to the mass market. As carmakers pour resources into battery-powered machines, auto marketing teams are hustling to shake the stigma of electric vehicles being earnest, often wimpy vehicles. Enter Schwarzenegger.

“Somebody put that name out there and everybody was like, ‘Yeah, let’s stop the discussion right here,’” BMW North America Chief Executive Officer Sebastian Mackensen said.

Schwarzenegger has taken a winding road to his status as EV pitchman. Thirty years ago, he was pushing for the introduction of gas-guzzling civilian Hummers. He started building his reputation as an eco-warrior in the California statehouse where he signed a law to cap emissions on utilities and factories. He also was an early champion for making the Los Angeles Auto Show a showcase for alternative technology. In 2019, the actor played a smarmy car dealer in a series of videos for Veloz, a nonprofit consortium of companies and agencies trying to accelerate EV adoption.

BMW Chief Marketing Officer Jens Thiemer has known Schwarzenegger for a few years and the two have talked about the company’s pipeline of electric products. “That kind of authentic involvement played a role,” Thiemer explained, “though I also say he’s the perfect Zeus.”

BMW Arnold Salma Superbowl commerical
BMW will be fighting for market share as its new iX SUV launches in the U.S. along with 30 or so other new electric vehicles.  Source: BMW

The actor, however, has not been overly impressed with electric offerings. Rather than tool around in a Tesla or Nissan Leaf, he had bigger, brawnier vehicles converted: one of his Hummers ran hydrogen, another burned biodiesel and his Mercedes G-Class SUV was converted to battery power.

“In the last 20 years … an electric car (from) any car company, those cars always looked somewhat stupid,” he explained.

Recently, Schwarzenegger has been driving a Karma. However, he’s here for the iX and the parade of similarly swollen electric SUVs and trucks that will hit the market this year. “Now, my friends in the gym … these hardcore bodybuilders, they’re finally getting it,” Schwarzenegger explained. “No one can say anymore, ‘This electric stuff, I’m not into that.’”

Hayek said she was drawn to the project for two main reasons: her father and sons are into football and her daughter is active on climate issues. “She’s kind of hardcore,” Hayek said.

To be sure, the iX will have plenty of competition. The number of electric vehicles in the U.S. alone will double to about 60 this year. The debuts include GMC’s Hummer. Sunday’s game will be a major scrum for attention.

BMW Arnold Salma Superbowl commerical
Starting at $83,200, BMW hopes its SUV will resonate with new buyers as well as the brand’s faithful. Source: BMW

“This is the biggest thing I ever worked on,” said Rich Silverstein, a founding partner at Goodby Silverstein & Partners who has helped craft about 10 Super Bowl commercials over the years. “You have the biggest stage and you want to show off your best product.”

Kia also is using the game to tout its EV6 sedan, the first of 11 electric vehicles it plans to produce by 2026. Hyundai, its corporate sibling, won’t have an ad in the Super Bowl this year, but the Korean brand used the NFL playoffs to tout the Ioniq 5, its latest EV, with a 60-second spot. In the commercial, Jason Bateman that also aims to convince viewers that EVs have evolved beyond puny, poky and dull.

“We didn’t want to be left out,” says Angela Zepeda, chief marketing officer for Hyundai Motor America. “The brief we gave the agency was to stand out during the time of the Super Bowl without actually being in the Super Bowl.”

By abstaining, Hyundai had money left over for spots during NBA and college basketball games, as well as other primetime programming, over the spring and summer.

Schwarzenegger no doubt wasn’t cheap for BMW. But he said he wouldn’t have taken the job if the commercial touted a gas-powered car: “I don’t need the money.”