Behind MINI 's "Men of Metal"

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If you wanted to tell a fanciful story of renegade robots roaming around Oxford, England, how would you convince people that the story might be true? By making it show up in internet searches, of course, which is exactly what Crispin Porter + Bogusky did as a run up to the release of an advertising insert for MINI called "Men of Metal," which claims to be an excerpt from a book detailing various such robot sightings.

Months before "Men of Metal" appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone and Esquire, CP+B was building the groundwork for the moment when a reader might turn to the internet to check out the story. The agency launched five sites that seem to corroborate -- and take readers deeper into -- the mysterious sightings. The main site details the research of Colin Mayhew, a rogue MINI engineer (portrayed by the father of CP+B producer Rupert Samuel) who is trying to build a robot out of a MINI Cooper. The four other sites backup other parts of "Men of Metal" by providing links to the book's publisher, its author, a personal page apparently set up by Mayhew, and a seemingly independent page set up to track robot sightings. In building this elaborate fiction, CP+B collaborated with interactive company Beam, L.A. production and effects house ZOIC Studios -- which created the robot design and produced the demonstration footage that appears on the main site -- and robotics expert Ronny Kubat, who wrote the technical copy describing the MINI-turned-robot.

"With the MINI in general, we're driven to think in so many different ways," says CP+B art director Dave Swartz. "People are on their computers all the time and the viral thing is so powerful now. It just spreads so fast if you have something sticky."

The MINI effort spread very fast, even beating "Men of Metal" to print. After getting just 400 hits in the first week, the site was mentioned on the popular website, and the hoax took off. According to Swartz, even the appearance of the insert itself hasn't slowed it down, and Mayhew's faux website still receives emails from curious readers. "The people who write to Colin really relate to the fact that he's this lone guy," Swartz says, speculating on what makes the campaign compelling. "Everybody wants to believe that something like this can exist."

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