BMW's Mini Starts Agency Search

Shops Expected to Jump at Chance to Work With Iconic Auto Brand

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BMW Mini is talking to agencies, making it the first car account up for grabs in 2012, Ad Age has learned. Independent Butler Shine Stern & Partners has been the agency of record since 2005.

The Sausalito, Calif.-based shop succeeded MDC Partners' CP&B when, after four years of working on the business, it resigned the account to handle the much larger Volkswagen of America account. (VW has since left and is now working with Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Los Angeles.)

The carmaker has started a review process by circulating a request-for-information document to a variety of shops. Hasan & Co. in Raleigh, N.C., is the consultant; the firm handled the review the last time as well.

Under consideration is the full scope of work handled by BSSP, which includes national brand creative, regional and dealer creative, media planning and buying for both national and co-op advertising. Not included is digital work, which is handled by Boston-based Beam Interactive and multicultural marketing, handled by Austin, Texas-based Sanders Wingo.

According to the marketer, the review isn't related to performance, but is being mandated by the company's procurement department. "Mini USA has been very satisfied with BSSP's services," Tom Salkowsky, manager of Mini USA marketing, said in a statement. "They have helped support Mini's growth over the years with groundbreaking, never-been-done-before creative. We are simply adhering to BMW Group corporate purchasing procedures by going to RFP," He noted that BSSP will participate in the review.

Said John Butler , executive creative director at BSSP, in the statement: "Generally, we believe incumbents shouldn't participate in an agency review. However, with our strong dealer and client relationships, an Effie for Mini each year that we've had the business, and the strength of the work, we are confident that we will prevail."

Despite the fact that spending isn't huge, agencies will likely jump at the chance to participate given the brand is high-profile and auto accounts are still a status symbol on Madison Avenue.

According to Kantar, in 2010, the most recent full year for data, BMW spent more than $165 million in domestic measured media. Of that amount, it devoted about $26 million to marketing Mini. That number is on track to be about the same or slightly lower for 2011, according to Kantar.

Its latest advertising, themed "The Best Test Drive Ever. Period," featured the winner of a contest who submitted a six-word description of his idea of the best-ever test drive. The winner is featured in a two-minute film and 90-second cinema commercial dramatizing his idea.

Although it's a mandated review, the decision to call a pitch now is still perplexing, considering how well the brand is performing.

BMW's Mini brand remains a niche player in the U.S. auto market, even though it fields a range of five different models, with a sixth, a two-seat roadster, coming later this year. Mini added the two-seat coupe and the crossover Countryman last year, and for all of 2011, the brand, helped by the new models, sold 57,511 units, up 26% from the previous year, according to data supplied by BMW North America. Mini's marketing has emphasized the brand's fuel efficiency and its sporting character, as well as its option choices across the range.

The review follows agency changes made by BMW for its BMW North America and Rolls Royce brands, which were both moved to MDC Partners' KBS&P last year. It also comes as the brand is facing recall challenges; almost 90,000 Mini Coopers and other Mini brand vehicles are being recalled in the U.S. due to potentially problematic water pumps that could spark engine fires.

For BSSP it means starting out the year with the possible loss of two key clients. In addition to Mini, Radio Shack, which has worked with the shop for less than three years, is currently conducting a creative agency review.

Contributing: Stephen Williams

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