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Mini Billboards Talk to Drivers

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NEW YORK BMW Mini drivers, already known as ready to engage with anything MINI-related, will find themselves greeted by name on personal message boards in four major cities.

It is Mini's version of interactive billboards, a campaign called "Motorby" via Butler, Shine, Stern and Partners. The program was launched Monday with one billboard each in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Miami.

It's no surprise to the driver; the messaging program is user-triggered by a personalized key fob that contacts the billboard database, which then transmits a personal message to the driver, as in "Hi Jim, great day to be a lawyer." Or something like that.

Drivers signed up for the program this month and answered a number of questions such as a pet name for their Mini or their profession, info that was downloaded on a network.

Mini spent about $15 million in advertising last year through November, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus, after spending $20 million in 2005.

Automakers have found billboards to be one more tool to engage their customers over the last several years. Honda last March rolled out 162 "talking" billboards, a campaign via RPA, Santa Monica, promoting the Element SUV in which drivers were invited to tune to a specific radio frequency to hear a Honda message. The program ran for 30 days, "and was not continued, with no plans to do it in that form again," a Honda rep said.

Ford has also experimented with billboards, with an effort in fall, 2005 via Ogilvy & Mather in Belgium, that used interactive posters in train stations. The voice and facial movements of the fellow on the billboard were controlled by an actor in a booth, hopefully engaging potential customers. That work never made it to the U.S.