BMW's Mini Launches Online Films

If you recall that BMW's "The Hire" series was one of the first branded Web-movie ventures, you won't be surprised that younger sibling Mini is following suit.

The BMW USA division, which has been busy teasing the program with in-cinema and outdoor ads asking "Who are Hammer & Coop?," launched the first two of six Web films yesterday: the films, one of which will debut online each week, are about action hero Hammer and his car, Coop (for Mini Cooper). The effort supports the 2007 Mini, the company's first major redesign since the car was re-introduced to the U.S. in 2002.

The films, which are directed by "Starsky & Hutch" movie director Todd Phillips and star Bryan Callen, are at www.hammerandcoop.com.

Next month, Mini will release a faux music video for Eighties band Asia's "Heat of the Moment," which will be featured in the last film.

The episodes parody Seventies action TV shows like "Mannix," and are shot with a deliberately low-budget look. They follow the exploits of Hammer--who, in the first episodes, is being chased around L.A. by burly goons in a pickup truck.

A national campaign supporting the Web films--via Mini USA's ad agency of one year, Butler, Shine, Stern and Partners--includes trailers running in 1,900 cinemas through March; billboards in New York's Times Square, on Sunset Boulevard and in Miami; movie posters, print ads; Internet campaigns on MySpace, YouTube, and accessories and merchandise for sale online.

Mini plans a March-issue print push to increase visibility, given the brand's history of favoring quirky and whimsical one-offs over spectacles. Instead of Mini's slaloming around binding staples or careening around magazine margins--signature Mini advertising during Crispin Porter + Bogusky's purview of the brand--Mini will run something of a print roadblock.

Rolling Stone magazine will run an issue in March in which the Hammer & Coop films will be pitched on both front and back covers, and in 10 full-color pages within the magazine; an eight-page spread on the films, with a fashion theme, will run in March issues of Maxim, Stuff, and Blender; Premiere magazine will run a faux cover and five pages of "coverage" by staff; and Health magazine will integrate the campaign into its highly read monthly workout poster.

Trudy Hardy, Mini marketing manager, who has been at Mini since its inception, says the challenge was creating awareness and buzz for a new Mini that doesn't look strikingly different from the previous model. She says that because many of the new version's differences are under the hood and inside, a subdued pitch would likely get caught in the clutter.

"We are seeing more and more people doing inserts, and what was unique and breakthrough is becoming the norm," she says. "So we are looking at new ways to approach things." She said that teasers on YouTube have garnered 18,000 hits since they launched this month.

Also, Mini will be the latest virtual entity on Second Life, following Toyota's Scion, Pontiac, Mercedes (which went virtual on Second Life last week). Per Mini, Hammer and his car will be on--or in--Second Life.

Unlike BMW's "The Hire" films--which were not at all about touting specific product attributes, but about putting a kind of aesthetic halo around the BMW brand--the Mini "Hammer & Coop" films boast product attributes by making Coop a talking car--albeit a British one--in the vein of Eighties TV show "Knight Rider." "We actually gave Coop a personality, a voice, so while there's really an interesting dynamic between Hammer and the '07 Mini through the films, they talk about all the new features of the car," says Hardy. "It is really much more about the product."

In one sequence, Hammer can't find the keys to Coop, so the car explains, "just push the button," demonstrating that new feature. "Coop," says Hammer, "you continue to amaze."

After a fast start and year-over-year growth in sales, Mini's position in the U.S. softened last year. Through September, the company reported 29,770 Minis sold--a drop of 7%, compared to the 32,010 cars reported in the first three quarters of 2005.

Hardy says Mini has not made plans thus far to extend beyond six episodes, but "we will wait and see what the reactions are. You want to make sure you leave the door open."

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