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A marketing ploy that makes a losing car the winner

Next to the muscular roar of a Porsche, a Ford Mustang and an Audi, the wee electric Smart car sounds – and looks – as if it could be operated by a child holding a remote control.

So why have Smart Canada, and its ad agency BBDO Toronto, launched a video showing its little car losing miserably in three dramatic drag races against competing brands? To prove that in city driving, all that fancy horsepower doesn't count. The races (with the other cars' logos conspicuously absent) showed that the car moves faster in the first five metres – useful for getting around slow-moving traffic when the light turns green, for example.

For cuteness, it does not quite match the Smart ad from BBDO Germany, which won awards at Cannes last year. That commercial showed the car's pitiful attempts at duplicating tricks often seen in SUV commercials, such as tearing up dusty hills and speeding through water. (Tagline: "As good for off road as an off-roader in the city.") But the Canadian version is certainly true to the brand.

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Stunning stunts

BMW Canada still thinks the roar counts for something; and it is up to some old tricks.

Last weekend, the company released a video showing its M4 car zooming along a racetrack that was built on top of an aircraft supercarrier. It's been an advertising hit for BMW. The stunning effects – with the car drifting around the edges of the track, rubber burning, just centimetres from falling into the water – have attracted more than two million views in less than a week.

It's a nearly identical conceit to a 2011 video showing its M1 performing similar tricks atop a helipad. Why the repetition? Online videos like this helped push up sales of the M series by 12 per cent, for a record year in 2011. In 2012, after another stunt video, the M5 car it featured handily beat its sales targets.

But do the videos showcase the high performance of the cars, or simply a bit of digital wizardry?

"It's wonderful to see that our video has sparked so much conversation around the world," Andrew Simon, chief creative officer at BMW's ad agency, Cundari, said when asked if the stunt driving was real.

"Instead of weighing in on the debate, we encourage everyone to view the spot and decide for themselves."

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