Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


In 1967 a safety mandate forced the antiquated, cheaply made British Mini Cooper to discontinue sales in the United States. In 1994, when Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) attained control of the Mini Cooper brand, executives were perplexed about how to reintroduce their newly acquired microcar to the United States. Finally reappearing in the United States in 2002, followed by a prolific magazine, Web-based, and outdoor campaign, the MINI, as it had come to be spelled, was a screaming success. By 2004 MINI made up 11 percent of BMW’s sales. Company executives were nervous, however, about the boom-and-bust pitfalls that haunted other trendy cars, like the New Beetle and PT Cruiser. It was for this reason that ‘‘MINI Robots,’’ formulated as a ‘‘viral’’ campaign, a term referring to advertising that relies on word-of-mouth contagiousness, was launched in March 2004.
With an estimated budget of $15 million, ‘‘MINI Robots’’ was developed by Miami-based ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky. First a site was developed on the Internet to herald a clandestine project that assembled robots from MINI parts. The project’s mastermind, a fictional Dr. Mayhew, was a retired scientist who posted daily video clips of his experiments. Shortly afterward a second site was published, with sightings of robots slinking through the moonlit streets of Oxford, England, and preventing traffic accidents. Later Crispin Porter + Bogusky inserted a novelette, ‘‘Men of Metal,’’ into consumer magazines like National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Men’s Health, and Men’s Journal. The 40-page insert chronicled a journalist’s quest to find Dr. Mayhew and the people rescued by his robots. To perpetuate the joke, Crispin Porter + Bogusky created websites for Dr. Mayhew, along with a home page for Casson, the fictitious publishing company of ‘‘Men of Metal,’’ and a personal site for the novelette’s author. According to an interview with Jack Pitney, vice president of MINI USA, in the Wall Street Journal, customers appreciated the joke: ‘‘They like to come upon something in an interesting way and learn about it on their own terms.’’ One week after the appearance of ‘‘Men of Metal,’’ more than 46 million hits were registered on the ‘‘MINI Robots’’ main website. Success reached BMW’s bottom line as well. During the first year of ‘‘MINI Robots,’’ 36,000 MINIS were sold, surpassing the 34,000 units sold the previous year. By the end of 2004 MINI orders were outstripping supply, with a six-month waiting list for cars with some of the newer features.

Prompted by the Suez fuel crisis, Sir Alec Issigonis designed the Mini in 1959 to be Britain’s first ‘‘classless’’ car. Meager but efficient, the tiny Mini was sold in the United States for only seven years, until collapsible steering wheels were mandated in 1967. In 1994 BMW acquired the Rover Group, which included the Mini brand. The German automakers initially were unsure about how to reawaken interest in the car, especially in the United States. Even after engineers had modernized the interior, upgraded the MINI with a 115-hp Chrysler engine, and increased the length by 20 inches, it was still the smallest car in the U.S. market. By 2001 consumer trends, including the burgeoning markets for SUVs and full-size trucks, suggested a daunting forecast for the MINI. ‘‘If we’d listened to the market research, we’d have never done the MINI,’’ Pitney admitted to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Crispin Porter + Bogusky oversaw the U.S. marketing launch for the MINI. At the start of 2002 the budget was a meager $15 million, with Crispin Porter + Bogusky introducing cost-effective magazine and outdoor advertisements that Brandweek called a series of ‘‘one-offs,’’ individual ads that were not part of an integrated campaign. Playboy allowed MINI to ‘‘pose’’ for its June 2002 centerfold spread, complete with a list of likes and dislikes. ‘‘The end to a perfect day: A hand-washing with warm, sudsy water and a nice wax,’’ the ad read. In 2003 MINI punch-out kits, which allowed people to construct their own paper models, could be found in consumer magazines. Ford Expeditions were driven across the United States with MINIs strapped to their roofs. ‘‘We have to be creative in our marketing and look for clever ways to have $1 seem like $2,’’ Pitney told Autoweek. ‘‘Everything we do has to reflect the unique, fun, cheeky nature of the MINI brand in a holistic, 360-degree MINI way.’’
From 2001 to 2003 brand recognition for the MINI rose more than 400 percent in the United States. Despite consumers’ inclination toward larger cars, MINI sales rose from 20,000 units in 2002 to more than 34,000 in 2003. Kerri Martin, manager for marketing communications at MINI USA, was quoted in the New York Times as saying, ‘‘We’re constantly going left when everyone is going right.’’ It was in this vein of unorthodox thinking that the ‘‘MINI Robots’’ campaign was created.

MINI USA and Crispin Porter + Bogusky anticipated that ‘‘MINI Robots’’ would resonate with the 20- to 30-year-old demographic of mechanically minded males who were put off by women’s praise of the car as ‘‘cute.’’ This was also a group, as Pitney told the Wall Street Journal, that does not like ‘‘being hit in the face with traditional advertising.’’
In an interview with Shoot, Andrew Keller, a Crispin Porter + Bogusky creative director, said, ‘‘[Given] the nature of the car, its target audience is what I call a creative mindset. They are people that go to the Web, and believe the car is a means of self-expression—it is that sort of vibe. However, we had to zero in on a target at the beginning, and it is twenty- to thirty-year-old males.’’ He added, ‘‘But that is more tactical than anything right now because ultimately, the MINI should be something that everybody wants. The queen drove one and a plumber can drive one, and that is what we want to maintain.’’
Although a variety of men’s magazines featured the novelette ‘‘Men of Metal,’’ the references to the story were placed on the Internet. Thus, passing over a lower-income audience, ‘‘MINI Robots’’ was aimed at a target market with access to a computer and an Internet connection.

BMW’s MINI made cameo appearances in movies like Bourne Identity and Austin Powers, Goldmember, but the little car’s biggest role was in the 2003 remake of The Italian Job. While British Motor Corporation had refused to supply cars for the 1969 version, with Michael Caine, BMW donated more than 30 MINIs for Paramount’s remake.

J.D. Power and Associates stated in 2002 that MINI USA had not only reintroduced the brand in the United States but also created a new automotive sector, the premium small car. Other critics found categorizing the MINI more difficult and usually compared it to Volkswagen’s New Beetle or to Toyota’s Scion. The New Beetle was introduced in 1998 with the tagline ‘‘Drivers Wanted,’’ which was similar to MINI’s ‘‘Let’s Motor.’’ Volkswagen’s ad agency, Arnold Communications, initially catered to nostalgic baby boomers, with copy declaring ‘‘Less flower. More Power’’ or ‘‘If you sold your soul in the ‘80s, here’s your chance to buy it back.’’ After its launch in 1998 demand for the New Beetle skyrocketed, and according to the Financial Times, by October 1998 Volkswagen had sold 64,000 units. By 2003, however, sales of the New Beetle had slowed drastically, and between 2001 and 2002 Volkswagen reduced production by 18 percent. ‘‘Volkswagen’s New Beetle and Chrysler’s PT Cruiser . . . often prove to be ‘fashion statements’ with relatively quick boom-and-bust cycles,’’ wrote Paul Eisenstein in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
According to Forbes magazine, Toyota introduced the Scion in 2004 with substantial success. In its first year sales of the Scion matched those of the MINI. Compared to the MINI, however, Scion explicitly targeted a younger market, Generation Y, those born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s. In 2004 Toyota spent 70 percent of its Scion marketing budget on lifestyle events, including nightclubs and small-venue concerts. Scion even allowed consumers to accessorize the car over the Internet before stepping foot on a lot. Jim Farley, vice president of Scion, told Ward’s Dealer Business that more than 50 percent of Scion customers had configured their vehicles online, adding an average of $1,200 in accessories.

According to an interview with Martin in the New York Times, the planning for the ‘‘MINI Robots’’ campaign began in late 2002 after Crispin Porter + Bogusky had requested a comic book or novel about robots. The campaign was developed over the following 18 months and launched in March 2004. ‘‘[The campaign] started as, ‘Hey, let’s build robots out of car parts,’ ’’ said Alex Bogusky, partner and executive creative director of the agency. It slowly morphed into a detailed campaign in the belief that, ‘‘if people are involved with it, they spend a lot of time with it, a good 45 minutes to an hour.’’ Beam, an outside company, assisted Crispin Porter + Bogusky with the ‘‘MINI Robots’’ main website, http:// Zoic Studios supplied the video clips depicting Dr. Mayhew’s daily experiments, including colossal MINI robots reaching down to grab SUVs before they plowed into test walls. Four additional websites were created by Crispin Porter + Bogusky. The first was a website for the fictional journalist Rowland Samuel. The second, for Samuel’s fictitious publishing company, Casson, depicted mock upcoming releases about Bigfoot, Loch Ness, and alien crop circles. The last two were Geocities websites, on Yahoo, including a personal website for Dr. Mayhew and one posting the latest MINI robot sightings around Oxford. After the websites were up, the 40-page insert ‘‘Men of Metal: Eyewitness Accounts of Humanoid Robots’’ appeared in such consumer magazines as Motor Trend, National Geographic, and Rolling Stone. The insert was written by the fictional Samuel, a freelance writer who bumped into an acquaintance at an Oxford party. The two began one-upping each other with urban legends, until Samuel’s acquaintance claimed a friend had photographed a giant robot that saved a car from hydroplaning. Enticed by the story, Samuel probed others connected to the photograph in order to prove or disprove the story. Using testimonials and photos as evidence, ‘‘Men of Metal’’ duped a significant portion of its readers.
Ambiguity fueled the buzz over ‘‘MINI Robots.’’ For the first two months of the campaign MINI logos and branding were omitted from the websites and the novelette. ‘‘We wanted people to experience it without us making a big announcement,’’ Bogusky told the New York Times. The robots were not demystified until April, when Crispin Porter + Bogusky put up posters throughout New York City and Los Angeles featuring the MINI logo above the robot images. A ‘‘Robots’’ option appeared as well on the drop-down menu of the MINI USA website, allowing visitors to accessorize the robots with MINI-like features. Though ‘‘some people will be disappointed’’ after discovering the truth behind the ‘‘MINI Robots’’ campaign, Bogusky told the New York Times, ‘‘most people appreciate you doing something different.’’

Despite selling a mere 10,000 units in the United States during the 1960s, Mini still managed to surface in the American psyche via celebrities. As Out Motoring stated, ‘‘It is always the 1960s for which it will be remembered . . . These 10 years saw the Mini go from a ‘housewives shopping car’ to a must have fashion accessory.’’ James Garner, Twiggy, the Beatles, Peter Sellers, and even Steve McQueen drove Minis.

Public response to ‘‘MINI Robots’’ was almost immediate. Crispin Porter + Bogusky reported that a week after its introduction the ‘‘MINI Robots’’ main website had received more than 46 million hits. By October 2004 it had attracted more than 1 million visitors. MINI USA received E-mails from people who said that they enjoyed the campaign so much they were going to a dealer. MINI seemed to be avoiding the boom-and-bust pitfalls that had haunted the New Beetle and the PT Cruiser. BMW projected selling only 25,000 MINIs in 2002–04, the first three years of its reintroduction in the United States, but in the first year alone more than 20,000 units were sold. This increased to 34,000 in 2003 and 36,000 in 2004, by which time the MINI was making up 11 percent of BMW’s total sales. In 2004 sales of the MINI were still outstripping the supply, with a six-month waiting list for cars with certain features. Bogusky boasted about the success of ‘‘MINI Robots’’ to the New York Times: ‘‘I’ve never gotten e-mails about a billboard or a television commercial saying, ‘I’m going to buy a car because of this.’ Here, we’ve gotten several.’’
Many industry critics, as well as Crispin Porter + Bogusky and MINI USA, believed that the ‘‘MINI Robots’’ campaign had created a new model in the advertising industry. For example, other viral marketing campaigns appeared in 2004. To market its liquid-crystal Aquos television, Sharp disseminated rumors that $3 million was stashed in hidden urns that could be located by using its website. For Lee Jeans, Fallow created a blog and answering-machine message supposedly left by a 90-foot model. ‘‘MINI Robots,’’ along with Sega’s ‘‘Beta-7’’ campaign, created a paradigm that treated consumers as willing participants, not passive observers. ‘‘We’re going from the Golden Age of advertising to the Information Age of advertising,’’ Bogusky told Advertising Age’s Creativity. ‘‘And it’s not going to be as easy for this generation to judge the brilliance of this new age.’’

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