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BMW 's 'Mini' Campaign Takes
A Quirky Approach to New Brand


Can you successfully launch a new automobile brand in the U.S. without national television? Bayerische Motoren Werke's Mini division is about to try with a quirky campaign that relies on billboards, posters and messages tucked into the margins of magazines.

The Mini brand and the tiny but fast Mini Cooper are icons in their native Britain, perhaps best known recently as the car piloted by comic character Mr. Bean. Previous-generation Minis were sold in the U.S. for just seven years in the 1960s before emissions regulations forced them out. Now, BMW, the German luxury car power, is looking to relaunch a new, modernized Mini Cooper in the U.S. at base sticker prices ranging from $16,850 to $19,850 for the faster Mini Cooper S. The ostensible target: hip city dwellers who want cutting-edge automotive fashion on a budget.

BMW's ad campaign for the Mini will forgo traditional television ads and use billboards, posters and grass-roots efforts like this Mini mounted on an Excursion.

The challenge is that Mini's car isn't the only thing that's small. BMW has given U.S. Mini marketers a relatively tight budget, estimated at about $20 million, to launch the brand and the new cars, which officially go on sale March 22. Despite rave reviews in the automotive press, just 2% of Americans are aware of the brand after some prompting, company officials say.

Jack Pitney, general manager of the Mini Cooper division in the U.S., says the challenge goes a step further. "We're creating a new segment" of premium small vehicles, he says. The four-seat Mini will be the shortest car on the road -- more than a foot shorter than Volkswagen's New Beetle. In a market where sport-utility vehicles, pickups and minivans outsold cars for the first time last year, the Mini is taking a road less traveled -- as is its agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

To pitch the Mini , the Miami agency is using decidedly down-market mediums, notably billboards, as well as grass-roots efforts. Mini operatives mounted several on top of Ford Excursion SUVs that toured some 24 cities. (When people asked about the strange vehicle, they were given a card that said "Coming to America" and directed them to a Web-site address.)

"We really had a blank slate for a marketing perspective," says Kerri Martin, whose card gives her title as "Guardian of Brand Soul, a.k.a. Marketing Communications Manager."

The launch officially begins in early March with a series of teaser billboards in all 45 markets around the country where the Mini will be sold. "XXL XL L M S Mini ," reads one. "The SUV backlash officially starts now," says another. The ads include just the company's Web site, Starting in April, a new series of billboards will roll out that include a car photo and the Mini's winged logo. Slogans include "Let's Sip Not Guzzle," referring to its stingy fuel usage.

While magazines will be a big part of the launch, executives have taken a different approach there as well. For starters, the auto maker went to various magazines and asked them to come up with ideas. Also, BMW is buying the margins around news stories. The "cornering ads," which will run in six magazines, including Rolling Stone and Motor Trend, say "Nothing corners like a Mini ," with a photo of the 163-horsepower premium version, the Mini Cooper S, cornering the 1-inch strip. The fact that magazines agreed to sell the space is another sign that the ad recession is forcing them to bend over backward to please advertisers.

Another part of the campaign: 6.3 million magazine inserts of the abridged version of "The Book of Motoring." The longer version, a 5-inch by 5-inch booklet, is filled with whimsical ideas of what it means to be a "motorer." The book suggests motorers pay the toll for the car behind them or feed parking meters if they see a meter maid coming. "Motorers look out for one another," the book says, with an asterisk on meter-feeding that suggests checking state and local ordinances, since the practice is illegal in some areas.

Mini's unorthodox campaign has this going for it: The company has just 20,000 vehicles to sell in the U.S. during its first full year of production.
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