Without the Yuppie, there might be no BMW
In 1984, Newsweek sounded the alarm bells—we’d entered the Year of the Yuppie. It was the biggest demographic change in history hitherto, or at least that’s what Newsweek claimed. The Baby Boomers had grown up and oh had they arrived! They were your stock brokers and your investment bankers, retaining all the edginess of the prior two decades’ hippies and marrying it with all the materialism of the preppies.
They were both a scourge and a massive marketing opportunity… they represented a large body of luxury consumers ready to spend, but with that came—allegedly—unbridled narcissism, self-absorption, and worst of all, the yuppification of the neighborhood: luxury condos going up everywhere, expensive espresso in lieu of your diner coffee, bowed heads with eyes glued to The Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal, the woefully obnoxious brick phones, and worst of all, their Bimmers* in your parking space.
He named his dog Bimmer.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because it is. From Joel Stein’s now famous indictment of millennials in TIME:
What [they] are most famous for besides narcissism is its effect: entitlement […] Millennials are interacting all day but almost entirely through a screen.
And earlier in that same article:
This generation has the highest likelihood of having unmet expectations with respect to their careers and lowest level of satisfaction with they’re careers at the stage that they’re at.
Now, put that side-by-side with Newsweek’s “The Year of the Yuppie”:
Now there they go again, barely looking up from the massed gray columns of The Wall Street Journal as they speed towards the airport, advancing in on the 1980s in the back of a limousine. Just as predicted, economic reality has intruded on their self-absorbed journey; but the unsettling news is that time has done little to dim their fervor.
Like the iPhone and the Millennial, you can’t really talk about the Yuppie without mentioning the BMW.
Until the 1980s, the BMW was a mystery to most Americans, who, at one time, might have told you that BMW stood for “British Motor Works.” Car enthusiasts were familiar with the German brand, sure, but when Bob Lutz became the company’s CEO he set out to make the BMW more attractive to American buyers. They were going to leave the niche and go mainstream.
And the way Lutz did that was by predicting—or perhaps, in some small part, creating—the Yuppie. In 1974, Lutz saw a generation of Americans who were going to grow up. They were going to graduate college, and they were going to be affluent. And they were going to probably buy a Cadillac.
Lutz would change this. He was going to show them a car they didn’t know they needed: The Ultimate Driving Machine. So, when Lutz took his post as CEO, he put BMW’s advertising account under review. The new ads emphasized luxury: speed, driving sensation, handling, power. Their spartan interiors contrasted with the decadent designs of the 1970s. Their new marketing strategy said we’re not just a quality vehicle (which they were), but we’re a status symbol as well. It worked.
As the “Yuppie” label slowly evolved into more of a pejorative than something people were open and willing to identify as, and the relationship between the brand and this new class of buyers strengthened, what was at first a brilliant strategy backfired. But that story is for another TBT.
Hit with a rush of nostalgia? Prepare for another. This 1987 BMW 3-Series Convertible is available for purchase in Hartfield, PA. It only has 43,000 miles. Not bad for 29 years.
*We were surprised as you were to learn that Bimmer is, in fact spelled with an i, and not the 21st century standard double-e.