Since its launch in the U.S. in 2002, Mini has cultivated in its marketing and CRM an almost Harley-Davidson-esque relationship with its buyers: more a national club than an owner base. When you buy a Mini, you are part of an enthusiast's society where everyone is a brand evangelist in one way or another.
The company over the past half year has brought that ethos to bear in a social-media and digital campaign that bridges a relatively long gap between the third-generation 2015 model Hardtop's November reveal and the formal launch on Wednesday at the New York International Auto Show.
The bridging social-media program, "The Final Test Test Drive" features real owners chosen via social media activity, who got to participate in their idea of an ideal test drive, and get filmed doing it in the process by LA-based production company Tool. Those films launched online two weeks ago on both Mini-curated sites and on Hearst sites as branded content.
Mini has also just launched its advertising campaign for the Hardtop, with TV spots that bring back the bulldog, something of an icon from prior advertising in which the dog thinks it has found a doppelgänger in the Mini. The new campaign will comprise three months of TV network and cable, with creative having launched on April 7. There’s also full-out digital and out-of-home comprising some 225 billboards across the country in April and May, plus radio, per Tom Salkowsky, manager of marketing for the brand. He says the big picture is celebrating owners. "Owners are at the core of it." The tag is "The New Mini. The New Original."
Salkowsky tells Marketing Daily that it tapped the owner-community for the Final Test Test Drive program right onstage at the L.A. Auto Show about five minutes after Salkowsky announced the campaign.
"We stepped back and thought that, in launching the most important Mini model in our history, we wanted to do something to include our owners and community. Something they would appreciate," he says. The Woodcliff lake, N.J.-based U.S. sales and marketing arm of the BMW division put out a social media call for submissions — video, photo, or text — asking for a potential participant's idea for the perfect test drive. "We got some 800 entries," he says. After a winnowing process, 10 owners got to do their thing with L.A.-based production firm Tool creating advertising.
Each also created an exterior design, and consumers voted on their favorite, which got produced and will be sold in very limited quantities. That winner, college student Alex Coyle, was at the New York Auto Show Wednesday, along with the car she designed.
Besides MiniFTTD.com, Mini’s social channels — including YouTube — the video content is at Hearst publications like Road and Track, Car and Driver and Esquire, per Salkowsky. He adds that Hearst teams also filmed at the test-drive events, doing its own behind-the-scenes content. Mini dealers are also showing the content.
Salkowsky says the videos have garnered some 650,000 online views with over a quarter of a million having watched it on Minuusa.com. "We figured going in that we would have lots of Mini owners who would watch the videos and then configure Minis. But in first three months since launching we have gotten 8,000 or 9,000 viewers who 'build' a hardtop, and 48% are not in our database. They aren't owners."
One of the 10 finalists, also at the show, says his participation and his own activity on social media has made him a de facto brand evangelist. "People have been paying attention; I've been sharing it. And viewers are grabbing onto the idea."