Advertising Stunt Draws 30,000 Wannabe Investigators

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DETROIT ( -- Drawing on the public's fascination with police adventures, Germany's BMW AG on Nov. 11 wrapped
Tens of thousands of people wanted to be faux crime sleuths for Mini.
up an offbeat promotion that allowed consumers to investigate and solve fabricated art and vehicular-theft crimes. The chase and one of the crimes, of course, involved Mini Coopers.

Thousands of Americans applied to take part in the reality-show-type advertainment exercise that went on for two days in Spain.

30,000 contestants
Developed in-house in Germany, the contest was promoted soley online and drew applications from a total of more than 30,000 contestants around the globe.

Mini selected and flew 84 contestants from 17 countries to Barcelona Nov. 7. There, their task was to solve the mystery: which of six "suspects" stole six valuable collages by actual New York artist Peter Halley from a private art gallery and from a Mini belonging to "Sam Cooper." Each team of four, including one from the U.S., drove a Mini Cooper S for two days following "clues" from 35 actors hired as "witnesses."

After 36 hours of investigation, one of two German teams found the art at the city's container docks. There, the actors put on a chase scene, with the criminal getting "arrested" by

Photo: AP
Contestants got to pursue a safe adventure through one of Europe's most exotic cities. Here, a view of Barcelona's famed Catalan cathedral.
police. Each of the four German winners gets to drive a Mini for a year.

100 reporters
The marketer also flew 100 reporters from around the world to Barcelona to cover the contest.

In the U.S., the car marketer sent e-mails to the 100,000 prospects who earlier had opted in to receive more information about the retro-looking car.

More than 7,000 U.S. contestants applied at to be part of the event. Requirements were stringent, said Michael McHale, communications manager for Mini. "You didn't just tick off a box and you were in," he said.

Would-be U.S. crime solvers had to explain, in detail, why they should be selected and flown to Barcelona to solve the crime. Many got creative, sending videos of themselves as heroes solving crimes or poems about their qualifications as a private eye.

Fictional 'Sam Cooper'
Mr. McHale said not all countries promoted the contest the same way. A short, unfinished book about the fake theft by real Scottish crime author Val McDermid was online in several nations. Other markets mailed the book to prospects. The book's hero, Sam

The Mini Cooper model S was the real star of the advertainment event.
Cooper, asks for help finding the perpetrator. Sam Cooper appears on the U.S. Web site, created by Circle, Boston.

Mr. McHale declined to discuss Mission Mini's cost. But he said the marketer is planning a second mission.

Marketing strategist Jack Trout, president of Trout & Partners, said the promotion sounds "very complicated" and time consuming for contestants. He was also skeptical about its limited reach.

Value of invited journalists
"A good promotion should have a fairly broad reach and broad acceptance with many people getting prizes," he said. But he added the potential of media coverage from the invited press "would make it worth it. They might get a little bit more value out of it."

Mini launched the car in the U.S. in late March. The brand spent $7 million in measured media, mostly magazines and outdoor, through August, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

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Traditional media is part of this year's $25 million buzz campaign. Crispin Porter Bogusky, Miami, handles the automaker's advertising account.

No sale incentives
The marketer was pleased with the number of entrants. "You have to think of things on a mini scale," Mr. McHale quipped. Mini wants to keep demand high for the car, which, unlike other models throughout the industry, is selling without incentives. "We don't want to overcook it," Mr. McHale said.

Mini expects to beat its original forecast to sell 20,000 units this year in the U.S. by 15% to 20%, Mr. McHale said. "If we sell in the mid-20,000s next year, we'll be very happy."

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