Standing out in a crowd: Creating max buzz for new BMW Mini

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Like its target audience, the Mini Cooper is motoring down the road not taken.

The Mini USA unit of BMW of North America is bucking car advertising tradition by using unconventional tactics to create a buzz for its retro-looking Mini Cooper. To launch the return of the diminutive British-made sedan, "we wanted to be as different as we could because the car is so different than anything out there," said Jim Poh, VP-director of creative content distribution at Mini's agency, independent Crispin Porter Bogusky, Miami.

Take the "Mini Ride" touring the U.S. through August. The display, which includes an actual Mini, looks like a children's ride. "Rides $16,850. Quarters only," the sign says.

"We use the term out-of-home very loosely," said Kerri Martin, marketing communications manager at Mini who also holds a second title, "guardian of the brand soul."

The original Mini hit was introduced in 1959 and imported from the U.K. from 1962 to 1967. The classic model, until now, was produced virtually unchanged.

The new Mini went on sale in the U.K. a year ago and came to the U.S. in late March. BMW announced earlier this month that 75,000 Minis have been sold worldwide since its debut. But in the U.S.-the world's biggest car market-BMW has limited its allocation to 20,000 Minis this year. Despite the buzz, Mini said it sold only 4,142 cars in the U.S. through May.

Ms. Martin said some buyers are waiting two to three months, declining to confirm a report from an executive close to BMW that some buyers had to wait a year for their cars. She said the marketer didn't want to oversaturate the U.S. market with Minis, which is why the 20,000-unit limit was picked. "We wanted it to be something special."

`intimidation machines'

Because of the Mini's limited allocation, that means the marketer's $25 million buzz campaign breaks down to costing about $1,250 for each unit sold. That compares to $370 per unit Chrysler Group spent advertising its PT Cruiser in its 2000 launch year.

Mini arrives as U.S. culture is enamored with sport utility vehicles and cars "as intimidation machines," said Andrew Keller, associate creative director at the agency. "Rather than give explanations of Mini features, we asked ourselves `What might Mini have to say?' "

Traditional media is also part of this year's buzz campaign, including magazines and billboards. For example, the July 4 issue of Rolling Stone will have a circular insert of light cardboard titled "Mini Motoring Games." Separately, the car is the star of a booklet of cartoons in the June 17 issue of The New Yorker.

Magazines tend to be a personal medium, said Mr. Poh. "With these pieces, you can pull them out and talk about them with your friends."

Rather than use TV, Mini opted for a deal with National Cinema Network. Starting this month, four Mini spots now appearing on its Web site at move to 2,000 big screens in five cities, Mr. Poh said (see related story, below). The spots will be on TV, but only for sole dealers.

Under development is a deal with Dennis Publishing's Maxim for a July drive-in movie event in the Los Angeles area, said Ms. Martin.

Mini is measuring the campaign's effectiveness. Ms. Martin stated, "the Mini launch is going fantastically."

Tom Shaver, a senior partner at consultancy J.D. Power & Associates, said, "There's a lot of hype around the car," he said. With so many different car models available marketers need to create differentiation for their brands. "It seems their plan is working."

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