The term branded content itself really took hold as a labeled marketing technique in 2001, when The Hire was produced and distributed on the internet and DVDs. BMW decided to take its $30 million advertising budget and spent it on producing five ‘mini’ feature films.
The BMW film series The Hire is a series of eight short films (averaging about ten minutes each) produced for the Internet in 2001 and 2002. A form of branded content, the shorts were directed by popular filmmakers from around the globe and starred Clive Owen as "the Driver" while highlighting the performance aspects of various BMW automobiles. The series made a comeback in 2016, fifteen years after its original run ended.
The plots of each of the films differ, but one constant remains: Clive Owen plays "The Driver," a man who goes from place to place (in BMW automobiles), getting hired by various people to be a sort of transport for their vital needs.‘BMW Films’ was an extremely brave and bold decision from a brand that has always strived to be ahead of the curve in its 100-year history.
On April 26, 2001, John Frankenheimer's Ambush premiered on the BMW Films website and, two weeks later, was followed by Ang Lee's Chosen. Soon after, director Wong Kar-Wai was tapped to make a third film entitled The Follow, a dramatic piece about a runaway wife being followed by "the Driver". The film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and received rave reviews. It was followed by Guy Ritchie's Star and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Powder Keg.
The series debuted in October 2002, with the film Hostage. The film was followed by Ticker, directed by Joe Carnahan. The series replaced producer David Fincher with Ridley and Tony Scott due to Fincher's continuing work on Panic Room.
Season 2 continued with a dark action/comedy piece by Tony Scott called Beat the Devil. The movie, shot in Scott's trademark pseudo-psychedelic style, featured James Brown enlisting the Driver to take him to Las Vegas to re-work a decades-old deal he made with the devil which evidently gave Brown his "fame and fortune".
On September 20, 2016, it was reported that BMW Films has resurrected the series 15 years after the original production wrapped, with Clive Owen returning to reprise his role as the Driver. The first episode was revealed to be titled The Escape, which premiered on October 23, 2016 on BMW Films' official website.