It's not the size, mate—it's how you use it," says Nigel Powers, reassuringly, to his son in last year's spy comedy Austin Powers in Goldmember. Nigel was referring, of course, to his groovy BMW Mini Cooper, which, despite its super-compact size, has a roomy interior and impressive pickup. Nigel may as well have been talking about the "Mini-sized" budget last year at Miami-based Crispin Porter + Bogusky that successfully introduced the car in the U.S. marketplace. While the BMW Mini had long achieved iconic status in the U.K.—everyone from Peter Sellers to Paul McCartney owned one in the '60s—it was virtually an unknown on roads across the pond.
"We had a threefold challenge on our hands, really," recalls Kerri Martin, Mini USA's marketing communications manager. "We were launching a new brand, two new models—and an entire new segment, because Mini is the smallest car on American roads."
Last year's U.S. campaign more than met that challenge, and for this reason Mediaweek, in an unprecedented move, has handed Crispin Porter + Bogusky awards for both Plan of the Year for spending between $10 million and $25 million and Best Use of Magazines. CPB first came up with a Mini philosophy called "Motoring," outlined in a 70-page booklet. The idea was that the $17,000 car was more than just a hunk of metal—it was an alternative driving culture.
"We wanted to create this culture around the car, selling the idea of motoring," explains Jim Poh, CPB vp/director of creative content distribution. "It was not just a car to get you here to there, but an experience, or a way of living." And rather than targeting a specific age group, BMW was after a mindset—aiming to reach those with an appreciation of culture as well as style and design.
The real challenge came when it was time to introduce the Mini with a budget just under $15 million. What's more, the Mini was launched at a time when many Americans were hogging the roads with SUVs. If there was ever a case of counterprogramming, this was it. The bulk of the budget was spent on off-the-wall, out-of-home concepts. "We purposely tried not to walk away from the size of the car," says Poh. "Because the fact that it was small makes it great—easy to park, good for the environment, good for city driving and cornering."
The campaign included Minis parked in ballparks and football stadiums, which got the cars good TV airplay during Major League Baseball games and Monday Night Football. Rather than have them cordoned off behind velvet ropes, the Mini was virtually suckin' back beers with the boys. "We ripped out seats, put Mini in the stands, stuck a No. 1 on the antenna and sat it next to the fans," says Poh.
It was no small task, adds Andrew Keller, CPB's group creative director, since many stadiums already had sponsorship deals with other automakers. Still, New York's Shea Stadium and the Superdome in New Orleans, as well as other venues across the country, agreed to play ball.
Another piéce de resistance was piling a Mini on top of an SUV and driving around 22 cities, including New York and San Francisco. Keller gives props to the agency's production and account services departments for working out the logistics.
The other campaign component was print. Some $3.2 million was spent in 20 magazines, including Playboy; The New Yorker, published by Condé Nast; and Wenner Media's Rolling Stone. Here, too, it was business unusual: Playboy featured the Mini as a centerfold, complete with fold-out photo, a list of the Mini's "likes and dislikes" and a data sheet. "The end to a perfect day: A hand-washing with warm, sudsy water and a nice wax," the ad read.
The New Yorker assembled a cartoon booklet. Other magazines, including Rolling Stone, featured center spreads with day-glo orange staples acting as traffic cones for the Mini to race around, like a slalom course. "They'll put us through hoops," says RS publisher Rob Gregory, on CPB's creative drive. "And quite frankly, they asked us to get back to them on the feasibility of other units that we were unable to do, because they were from another planet."
CPB also crafted creative-content pieces such as a Mini Motoring Games Wheel, which featured eight popular road trip games, as well as detail stickers so readers could customize their own Minis. The production costs were higher than the typical ad page, but well worth the expense, Poh explains: "Lots of advertisers spend their money on frequency, but we'd rather spend the money on surprise than bore people over and over again."
Last year, the BMW Mini sold 24,590 units—22 percent above the company's sales objectives, says Martin. And brand awareness rose from 12 percent to 56 percent. The campaign not only raised the bar in the marketplace, but also for Crispin Porter + Bogusky.
"These are one-off's. People can't do them again," says Porter of his agency's Mini campaign. "So we have to think of something new. Sometimes I think it would be a much, much easier place to work here if we just did things in the old way, but it's too late for that now."
Lisa Granatstein covers magazines as the general editor for Mediaweek.