BMW Looks To Mini As It Launches New Series In U.S.

BMW is reaching into sibling Mini's bag of marketing tricks for this year's launch of a new series in the U.S. The company's new smallest car, the 1-Series--which goes on sale in March--will enter U.S. dealerships as a coupe and cabriolet, starting in the high $20,000 range.

Says Jack Pitney, vice president/marketing for BMW, the effort will bear some resemblance to the company's quirky marketing strategy for Mini: no TV ads, at least at first; off-kilter one-off ads in magazines; and a strategy of infusing every corner of the company's consumer-facing communications with a certain cheeky language and a rakish attitude.

It's actually no accident that Pitney is overseeing the car's launch. He says he and Jim McDowell, former BMW vice president/marketing changed places because the company wanted to carry some of the youth-informed sparkle from Mini to Bimmer. And some of the more established marketing knowledge to Mini.

"Part of the reason the company suggested Jim McDowell and I switch places was that there were many lessons on the Mini side that could be brought to BMW, and conversely, as Mini is maturing it made sense for there to be some of the more BMW-like approach to how that brand develops," says Pitney.



Because the 1-Series is meant to draw a new, younger customer to the BMW brand, the campaign will--like Mini--have no TV at first, but will be very print- and Web-focused.

"I think you will see us having a lot of fun with print. I think the 1-Series needs to have a little youthful attitude to it, and the print ads will reflect that. It won't go as far as Mini, where they can be much more 'out there,' but there will be a twinkle in the eye in the way in which we do some print," he says.

"We began that in July last year with the 1-Series microsite." He says the site has generated more interest than any other microsite in BMW's history. "We got 970,000 visitors in the first four months. We have developed 43,000 of them into hand-raisers and qualified leads." He says 30,000 have begun the process of ordering a car.

The car, which goes on sale March 22 (coincidentally the same date as Mini's launch in the U.S.), is slated for a first-year production of 10,000 units. "When you are faced with a vehicle in which you have limited supply and a lot of interest, it's very Mini-like in that we have to control expectation and keep people engaged with the brand so we don't lose them, and we make that waiting period enjoyable, and that's our focus with 1-series right now."

Indeed, when Mini Cooper relaunched in the U.S., the company launched a program in which those who ordered one of the cars could track the progress of their vehicle through production and shipment as if one were tracking a UPS package. And, says Pitney, BMW is doing likewise with the 1, and tapping into the tendency of first-year buyers to treat their cars as collectibles, as they did with the first batch of Minis.

"The first-year customers really viewed the Mini launch as a historic moment, and they viewed the cars as collectibles, since it had been 35 years since Mini had been sold in the U.S.," says Pitney. "So what we have done is to tap into that enthusiasm." First, he says, the start-stop button in the first-year batch of cars is engraved with "Year One of the One." Also, every car will be delivered with a commemorative book within that alludes to the BMW 2002, a car that was the last diminutive BMW in the U.S., also a coupe.

"The book contains a reprint of the first test-drive of the BMW 2002, an April 1968 review by David E. Davis in Car and Driver Magazine. And it also contains observations on the 1-Series launch and a test-drive review by his son, Matt," says Pitney. In addition, each of the cars will be delivered with two VIN numbers: one on the usual spot, and the other affixed to the book.

"The last thing we are doing is--when you buy things that are collectibles you often get a certificate of authenticity, so BMW is creating a certificate of authenticity for first-year buyers, embossed with a stamp from the factory noting it's the first-year production from Leipzig. Each one is specific to the vehicle built in the factory in that moment," says Pitney.

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