|With all the changes to the Mini Cooper, the marketer and agency opted for a nontraditional branded effort to get the message out.
The campaign, which spoofs 1970's TV car-centric shows such as "Starsky & Hutch" and "The Dukes of Hazzard," started in February with in-cinema trailers and billboards that teased an apparent action flick called "Hammer & Coop" that turned out to be the online series.
The campy shorts, each roughly three and a half minutes long, are available on hammerandcoop.com, but also have been posted on YouTube.com, promoted on Second Life and MySpace, and are still available to download to mobile devices and iPods. Mini is still advertising the site through magazine ads, with new print work arriving next month in June issues of titles including Rolling Stone and Men's Journal.
John Butler, executive creative director and founding partner of Mini's agency, Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, Sausalito, Calif., said his shop proposed the idea because the 2007 model changes to the Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S couldn't be told sufficiently in a traditional 30-second spot or print ad.
The Mini Cooper is just over 2 inches longer than the 2006 version, has wider interiors, a new transmission and new engine for better performance.
Mr. Butler said the ad agency cold-called feature-film director Todd Phillips ("Old School" and the feature film remake of "Starsky & Hutch"), who agreed to step behind the camera for the project.
Mr. Phillips brought in comedian Brian Callen, with whom he worked in "Old School," to play Hammer. Hammer's sidekick, Coop, is a souped-up 2007 Mini Cooper S (the more expensive performance version) that talks with a British accent. Coop reveals some of the 2007 model's new features, such as a no-key starter button when Hammer is in a pinch to get away from the bad guys. The episodes come complete with bikini-wearing babes washing cars, chase scenes and explosions.
Mini's marketing manager, Trudy Hardy, is encouraged by the results so far.
Ms. Hardy said the films have had a total of 1.5 million views through April 17; 1.3 million of those came courtesy of YouTube. The biggest spike in viewings was during the second week of March, when "Hammer & Coop" had a one-day placement on YouTube's home page. Hammer and Coop have a total of 4,233 friends on MySpace.
Ms. Hardy said her overall goals were to "find a unique way to communicate all the product substance of the car and to drive people to the site to help them learn about the car in a fun and flavorful way." But her ultimate campaign goal is to "get people to the [vehicle] configurator and locate a dealer."
She said 307,000 unique visitors who went directly to Hammerandcoop.com spent an average of six minutes viewing the videos, while another 722,000 connected there through miniusa.com. Of the 722,000, 355,000 of them configured a Mini (by model, engine and extras); 22,000 people saved their configurations; and 2,400 of those sent them to dealers. She said that data represented about a 33% conversion rate that translated to about 800 vehicle sales.
Mini sold 8,073 units in the U.S. in the first quarter this year vs. 9,485 units in the same year-ago period, according to Automotive News. In calendar-year 2006, Mini sold 39,171 units, or 4% fewer than 2005.
Wes Brown, a partner at consultant Iceology, said the "Hammer & Coop" effort is well aligned with its brand promise of being different, irreverent and having a sense of humor. "There's nothing out there in car advertising like it and that's Mini."