Any parenting book will tell you, introducing a new sibling is never easy. So when Mini USA prepared to bring the Clubman into the clan, there were some unique considerations.
Since its introduction in 2002, the modern Mini Cooper and its drop-top counterpart have become style icons. That bulldog bearing, piercing bi-xenon headlights and cheeky (if optional) Union Jack are just some of the reasons the Mini is easily identified on sight.
While there’s no doubt who the father is, the Clubman is different enough to suggest the mold was altered. It includes a split barn door; a fifth door to get passengers into the rear seat; more rear legroom; more trunk space; and higher gas mileage. Then there’s the size, which raised the question of how a Mini with 9.5 extra inches and 200 additional pounds could have the same go-kart handling as the original.
Enter Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners. The Sausalito, Calif., agency, which has held the Mini USA account since December 2005, added the international Clubman launch in November 2006, following a shootout with seven of Mini’s agencies from around the world. The independent was charged with launching the new model in more than 15 international markets and to a fan base loyal to the Mini’s original styling. But would consumers reject it as the Mini family’s red-headed stepchild?
In March 2002, BMW’s Mini Cooper touched down in the home of the Big Gulp, super-size fries and SUVs. The British classic, introduced in 1959 during a European gas crisis, had been revamped with sleek lines, bold colors and a stylish nod to its swinging ’60s past. Importantly, it also had a relatively low-entry price point. But the Mini Cooper’s Lilliputian dimensions might have sunk it in a country enamored with Suburbans.
By urging consumers to “Think small” — via humorous print and outdoor ads, and guerrilla tactics like mounting a Mini on a Hummer around the U.S. — Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami gave the brand cachet among the urban creative class and self-styled nonconformists. Brand awareness grew to 53 percent in December 2002 from 12 percent in the fall of 2001, and Mini sold 30,000 units by the end of March 2003, its first year on the market, according to the BMW Press Club. The Mini also won a slew of awards and “created a new segment in the marketplace: premium small car,” says Todd Turner, president of consultancy Car Concepts in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
In December 2005, Butler took over the account from Crispin and flush sales continued. In 2005, Mini introduced its convertible to warm reviews. In 2007, the Cooper was redesigned to include more comfortable seating and a more efficient engine.
In light of the Mini Cooper’s unique styling and brand personality, Butler found itself walking a tightrope for the Clubman, priced slightly higher than the Mini Cooper at $20,850. “We didn’t want to lose the soul of that brand,” says Chris Cardinal, group business director for Butler. “We had to make sure people recognized that this is still a Mini.”
The agency eschewed the concept of overtly selling the Clubman’s practical aspects. “These are things better communicated on the dealer level,” says agency CCO John Butler. Instead, it focused on two approaches: introducing the Clubman as the latest member of the Mini series, and acknowledging it as the family oddball, showcasing the new design while emphasizing qualities shared with its predecessor — frisky handling, unique styling and a fun vibe.
“[We were] targeting the same folks who had embraced Mini from the start — open-minded, trendsetting creative types who want to be seen as unique,” Butler says.
The shop also addressed the interests of the Mini’s varied audience, says Greg Stern, CEO of Butler. “We have first-time car owners and 75-year-old grandpas with a garage full of cars,” says Stern.
“We definitely match media and messages to the different segments — car enthusiasts, design conscious, etcetera,” adds Butler.
The agency issued a multi-tiered campaign rolled out over five months. To spark word of mouth among trendsetters, the shop in December released a pre-launch print insert in magazines like Fader and Paper. Touching on the all-in-the-family theme, the ads positioned “The Other Mini” among other eccentrics — a punk rock pip-squeak, for example — in otherwise square family portraits. Meanwhile, online videos aimed at design-savvy early adopters included one that animated the car as drawn on an Etch-A-Sketch. Another spate of online videos used the Sesame Street song, “One of These Things (Is Not Like the Others).”
Two months later, the agency — aiming for both enthusiasts and mainstream audiences — issued a buzz-building birth announcement using outdoor and commuter ads in five major U.S. markets as well as nationwide print. The billboard and station domination ads, tagged “Zig. Zag. Zug,” introduced the new Mini alongside its brothers. The triptych featured the Cooper (Zig) the Convertible (Zag) and the Clubman (Zug), with its barn doors prominently displayed. Meanwhile, inserts in national magazines defined Zug as “to do something different” and “to be unlike others.”
Ads that followed jettisoned “Zig. Zag. Zug” in favor of a solo turn for the Clubman. In the U.S., a targeted two-week national cable TV run introduced it as “The Other Mini” via two high-concept creative ads. “Pinball” spotlights the Clubman’s rear doors by using them as the flippers on a massive pinball game with human obstacles. The ad was filmed in the Czech Republic, a boon when it came to casting the spot. “We wanted the clone-like people to move very mechanically so, at one point … we were bringing in local break-dancers. ‘Popping’ and ‘The Robot’ are alive and well in the Czech Republic,” says Butler associate cd Steve Mapp.
A combination of print, TV and online ran in more than 15 markets internationally. An interactive banner ad based on the TV spot allowed consumers to flip the “pinball” doors and a free downloadable Wii game soon followed. “Instead of trying to push the consumer to us, we found media that they were already engaged with,” Butler says.
A second spot, “Clubmanitis,” shows a Norman Rockwellian doctor’s visit. When the doc peeks inside the boy’s ears, he sees a Clubman speeding around a track, a nod to its Mini handling.
“Everything we did needed to build on this unconventional design and attitude vs. practicality,” Butler adds. “This was critical because every early adaptor becomes a living, breathing ad for the brand in a category where Mini is outspent by competitors.”
2008 has been a very good year for Mini. Six years after the brand’s U.S. launch the automotive landscape is very different. High gas prices have chipped away at the SUV market and environmental concerns have turned small cars into status symbols. The Oxford, England, plant is running at capacity and dealers have very little or no inventory, according to a rep at BMW.
“We’re in the middle of a perfect storm,” Cardinal says.
And while market forces deserve some credit, during the two-week TV campaign, traffic on the U.S. site spiked, says Kate Alini, a rep for Mini. In May, the final month of the Clubman campaign, Mini sold over 6,300 cars, up 53 percent over the same period in 2007, says Alini. Online sales leads have tripled.
To date, the Clubman has accounted for 21 percent of sales, Alini says. And in July, when Mini sold 5,063 cars, 37 percent of them were Clubmans, according to Mini USA.
Did it work?
Sales are up and critics are enamored. “Those who feared the Clubman would be less Mini and therefore less fun have nothing to fear.