In my opinion, one of South Africa’s most famous advertising wars happened about 7 years ago, when I was in elementary school. I still remember it clearly, as it caused a huge fuss at the time. It was between infamous rival competitors, BMW and Mercedes Benz.
There is a coastal road in Cape Town, South Africa, called Chapman’s Peak. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful sightseeing attractions in the whole of Africa. The road winds through spectacular coastal-mountain scenery, with cliffs sinking into the Atlantic ocean on one side, and steep mountains towering over the road on the other side (see pictures). Despite its beauty, this road is a notoriously dangerous one to drive on, as it consists of 114 sharp, meandering, bends in the road.
Several years ago, a gigantic coastal cleanup campaign was launched, and a helicopter pulled 22 car wrecks out of the water adjacent to Chapman’s Peak. A well known story in the area resurfaced: it was the tale of an Irish businessman who lost control of his Mercedes Benz when driving along this road in 1988, and plunged 100m down one of the cliffs. Miraculously, he not only survived the accident, but crawled out of the wreckage with hardly a scratch on his body.
Mercedes heard about this story, and were so impressed with the safety features and stability of their car, that they decided to base their new advertisement on the story. For the advertisement, they drove a Mercedes off the road in the exact same location. In the TV advertisement, the Mercedes plunges off the edge of the cliff, but then the driver survives, to illustrate the phenomenal safety features of Mercedes Benz.
BMW noticed this ad, and ingeniously mimicked it. A week later, they showed a BMW driving along the exact same stretch of road in the rain, however, when it reached the point at which the Mercedes plunged off the cliff, the BMW negotiated it safely, and continued driving along the road. The catchphrase of the ad was “BMW beats the bends” referring both to the BENDS in the road and the Mercedes BENZ which failed to conquer the road.
The ad was taken off TV after about a week, because of the legalities pertaining to competitive advertising in South Africa, however, the ad was so ingenious that it created a national talking point at the time, and is still well remembered and spoken about today, thus making it a highly successful advertising campaign.
Here are videos of the two ads, the first link is for the Mercedes Ad, the second link is for the BMW ad, and then there is a picture of the attractive but dangerous road at Chapman’s peak, Cape Town.
The Mercedes Benz ad:
The BMW ad: