The Ads Only Mini Owners Can Read

Getting Customers to Feel Like a Community

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DETROIT ( -- How to make your customers feel like they're part of an exclusive club? Mini USA's answer is to run print ads that only Mini Cooper owners can decipher.
All 150,000-plus Mini owners will get a black box in the mail, with materials to decipher the print ads.
All 150,000-plus Mini owners will get a black box in the mail, with materials to decipher the print ads.

An ad breaking in five magazines this month contains a hidden message that can only be read by Mini owners using a special paper screen mailed to their homes in a black box. The box also contains a fake book titled "A Dizzying Look at the Awesomeness of Small." A hidden compartment in the book carries paper eyeglasses and a paper card with holes punched around a drawing of the outline of a Mini. The holes are used to align the card with the upcoming print ads to get the secret message.

150,000-plus owners
All 150,000-plus Mini owners will get the black box in the mail. The box directs owners to to learn how to use the paper tools. The magazine ad, once deciphered with the paper screen, directs owners to, which appears to be a strange site for protecting insects. Owners can enter their vehicle identification number to get a reward. Two other executions will break later this year. Owners will have to use the other tools from the mailed box to decipher them.

Every owner will get some sort of reward, said Mike Shine, creative director of Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, the Sausalito, Calif. shop that won the carmaker's account in December.

The agency learned during the pitch that Mini owners were already a community, waving to each other from their cars, meeting in their own chat sites and organizing their own events, he said. "We felt Mini should be cultivating that."

Marketing aimed at owners only
Given that owners are often the best leads to new sales, Trudy Hardy, marketing manager of the BMW division, said the strategy is to wrap all its marketing around the Mini community. Owners, she said, perpetuate the next sale. "We want to reward them for their passion for the brand and we are trying to treat them special."

Wes Brown, an auto analyst at consultant Iceology, said BMW understands that its owner base is unusual in the auto industry, as the Mini Cooper has developed a cult-like following. Making owners feel special and appreciated is an effective strategy, he said.

Mini will not run any TV advertising, Ms. Hardy said, and the brand's 2006 ad budget is about the same as in 2005, when according to TNS Media Intelligence Mini spent $19 million in measured media. This year's campaign, which Ms. Hardy called covert, will expand in 2007.

Cross-country owner event
Ms. Hardy is preparing for a 14-day, cross-country owner event that starts Aug. 21 after a party at Pirates Cove Beach and Pier in Monterey, Calif. She and her boss, VP Jim McDowell, will drive the 3,000-plus miles to Lime Rock, Conn., and hope to have dinner along the way with all 200 owners making the same trek. A total of 3,300 Mini owners have registered for a portion of the Mini Takes the States drive, which will include events with live bands and comedians.

Separately, Mini this month breaks an online and outdoor blitz themed "We feel your pain," poking fun at big car and truck owners. Online videos appear when banner ads are clicked offering tongue-in-cheek activities for them as they wait for their large tanks to fill, such as jumping rope with cable jumpers.
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