Leave it to Mini to celebrate April Fools at the New York International Auto Show. There is, at its display in the Jacob Jatvits Center, a new model called the Mini Yacht-man. The weird car is an amphibious vehicle. Of course, it’s a joke. Thomas Salkowsky, Mini’s marketing manager, says that it will float. Once. “We are a very irreverent brand,” he says. “It’s part of our DNA. It’s authentic to who we are.”
Indeed, offbeat marketing is Mini Cooper’s leitmotif. The brand has done everything from putting the car in sports bleachers during professional sporting events to putting it on an SUV. Last fall the BMW unit launched the Mini Coupe literally, strapping it onto the fuselage of a rocket at an event in downtown Manhattan that featured real astronauts.
Now the brand is playing on the idea of its new Mini Roadster convertible as a topless entertainer by putting it in the window of a corner store near Hollywood’s Kodak and Chinese theatres, with the message “Live and Exotic Topless Thrills 24/7.” When passersby push a button on the display, the curtain comes up on the Mini Roadster.
The month-long Mini Roadster Peepshow Spectacular, on Hollywood Boulevard, is tied to a national out-of-home and digital campaign, says Salkowsky.
“The peep show is a fun way to introduce the Roadster to West Hollywood,” he says. “It’s all about the car’s sexy design, so we are positioning it as a great object of desire.” Videos of the installation are running on digital billboards in places like Las Vegas and Times Square. There are also static boards around the country in major markets, per Salkowsky.
And the automaker is preparing something like a mass cross-country Mini migration from New York that will begin on July 4. The owner caravan, which runs through the middle of the month, and may bring in as many as 8,000 owners, is a bi-yearly event that began in 2006. Owners will drive from New York, to Washington, D.C. (where they will view the Independence Day fireworks), then head to Charlotte, N.C., then west to Nashville, through the Midwest, Southwest and on to the West Coast.
“There’s a starting point and ending point each day, and they can take any route they like as long as they end up at the same ending point for the evening program,” says Mini VP Jim McDowell. “If they take the main route, we will have something along the way to surprise and delight them, and at each destination city they have a choice of four places to stay at four price points.”
These days Mini’s ownership of the ersatz marketing space is being threatened by brands like Scion, Smart and Chevrolet. The latter has done digital marketing stunts like touting the Sonic compact car by kicking it out the back of a cargo plane with a parachute strapped to the hood, and letting people use social media to nudge it over the edge of a precipice with a bungee cord.
McDowell says Mini had been a little concerned about other brands “coming in and taking our corporate identity. But Mini has the wherewithal to stay in this position for a long time. Others may veer close, but not for long, and that helps distinguish us.”
Salkowsky says Mini doesn’t rebuff marketing partners but is very choosy about who the brand dances with. The brand currently has partnerships with snowboard company Burton, and Red Bull. “We have a global partnership with Burton; they are a brand that is similar to Mini: they are small, they make premium products and they are irreverent,” he says.
Mini inked a partnership with them two years ago on a global marketing platform around the Open, which is a series of snowboarding competitions the culminates in Stratton, Vermont with the U.S. Open Snowboarding Finals. Salkowsky says Burton uses Mini vehicles in its promotional content about its products and Mini has a presence at the events, though it does so with a light touch. “We don’t do test drives, for instance. That’s not what people want to do there. They want to snowboard.”
The brand also got behind the Burton Mountain Festival, which visits ten cities and let attendees use Burton snowboards for a day on the mountain. Mini activated by offering attendees a gift of Mini-branded Burton Aeon brand goggles when they take a test drive at a Mini dealership.
Mini’s global partnership with Red Bull involves sponsorship of extreme sports event, like X-Fighters, a freestyle motocross stunt competition; and Red Bull Crashed Ice, which is essentially urban downhill skating.
“Lots of companies engage with other brands, but we are very selective,” says Salkowski