These days, the vehicle-buying public would probably prefer car companies to invest in fixing safety issues, but that hasn't stopped major motor manufacturers investing in short online films to promote their products.
Cars and films don't have a lot in common. What's really going on here is brand differentiation. When BMW debuted its online movie series The Hire in the early 2000s, the talent involved - Clive Owen, John Woo Yu-sum, John Frankenheimer, Wong Kar-wai - made those cars seem much cooler than any of their competitors.
But are the films any good? Well, The Hire (available on YouTube), which debuted back in the boom times when companies had money to burn on ads, is certainly entertaining. The films look high-budget, and they possess the auteurist touches of their directors. Woo's film, starring Owen (above right), is solidly entertaining, Ang Lee's is suitably humanist, and so on. The stunt driving, which is what it's really all about, is scintillating throughout.
And the BMW cars are always there, but they are woven into well-written stories. They are still online car advertisement's finest moments.
Porsche (www.porsche.com) has a completely different approach: dubbing its portal Porsche Web Cinema, it simply runs glorified web video advertisements posing as films. There's an introductory short telling how the original Porsche engendered a spark of creativity and then a series of videos about the cars and motor sports. The in-house site comes with all the bells and whistles of a YouTube, but it's not very interesting.
Honda takes on BMW at its own game with a series of films based around the idea 'dream the impossible' (dreams.honda.com). 'We are a company that believes in the Power of Dreams,' says Honda. 'In this spirit, we have created a series of short documentaries about those who have the courage to turn failure into success and to forge dreams into a better future.'
Actually, the company has created a series of short documentaries to try to sell you cars. But some of them are interesting: Living With Robots looks at current developments in robotech while Dreams Vs Nightmares features Deepak Chopra talking about - you've guessed it - the power of dreams.
Lexus' L-Studio (www.lstudio.com) takes a different tack - it hosts a long-running web TV series featuring Lisa Kudrow, the wacky one from Friends. Web Therapy, which is about an online shrink, is quite funny, although what it does for the Lexus brand is difficult to fathom. Lexus also presents short films made outside of the company umbrella. But those old BMW ads still come out on top.