CAMPAIGN DIRECT: MARKETING CHALLENGE - How APL promoted the Mini as a vehicle for self-expression. To many, the Mini is cute, quirky - and very 60s. APL helped to bring this image up to date, Ali Qassim says

By ALI QASSIM, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 05 December 1997 12:00AM

’They are intent on combining the adrenaline-charged excesses of youth culture with the comforts of middle age. They certainly never act their age.’ This was a recent finding on lifestyle patterns of Britain’s middle children (thirty-somethings) but it could just as easily refer to the Mini Cooper, born in 1959 to the Rover Group, winner of several Monte Carlo Rallies in its early infancy and with plans for a major facelift for 2000.

’They are intent on combining the adrenaline-charged excesses of

youth culture with the comforts of middle age. They certainly never act

their age.’ This was a recent finding on lifestyle patterns of Britain’s

middle children (thirty-somethings) but it could just as easily refer to

the Mini Cooper, born in 1959 to the Rover Group, winner of several

Monte Carlo Rallies in its early infancy and with plans for a major

facelift for 2000.



But hang on, didn’t they stop manufacturing Minis in the early 80s, not

long after the death of Peter Sellers, one of its most famous

drivers?



Apparently not. This is one of many misconceptions about the Mini that

Rover, along with its full-service agency, Ammirati Puris Lintas,

decided they had to clarify early this year.



’The Mini’s core values have always been about excitement and

individuality.



Just remember its rallying pedigree or its role in films like the

Italian Job,’ Steve Robertson, UK brand manager, Mini, says. There was

one danger however; the Mini’s clear identification with the swinging

60s in the minds of most people could obscure both Rover’s recent

efforts to update the brand and its perhaps surprising sales figures -

more than 3,500 Minis were manufactured in 1996. Robertson says: ’We

needed to promote the Mini as a cool, contemporary brand.’



The first step was to fine-tune the product using all the ingredients

that made the original Mini 1.3 a classic car while injecting some of

the hi-tech improvements made since Sir Alec Issigonis invented the

car.



The new Mini engine (1275cc unit) is a more powerful factory-built

version with higher gear ratios for cruising down motorways; it has a

three-way catalytic converter and twin-point fuel injection, a driver’s

airbag and side-impact beams, as well as running on unleaded petrol.



Still, client and agency knew they had to go further. ’The product and

the message should exude a clear brand personality,’ Chris Thomas,

managing director of APL, says. ’Two things had to stand out - chicness

and entertainment,’ Robertson adds .



The upshot was the proposition, ’express yourself’, based on the

assumption that prospective Mini buyers are attracted primarily by the

brand’s ’individual, stand-out personality’. How better to transmit

these values than to allow potential customers to design their own Mini

to their own specifications?



In December 1996, Rover launched a Mini Website (www.MINI.co.uk.), that

invites Mini fanatics to create their own fantasy Mini while entering

retro quizzes and a competition that allows users to vote for their

favourite Mini designed by other Website visitors. Created by APL and

built by Good Technology, the site picked up an award for best

commercial site at the UK Web Awards this year for being extremely

interactive and for helping to reflect the unique personality of the

brand.



The ’express yourself’ theme was used in a May print campaign including

posters in tubes in London, Newcastle and Glasgow and in publications

such as Cosmopolitan, FourFourTwo, Esquire, Mojo, GQ and Maxim. The

campaign featured five different executions of different customer

profiles (’Helen Bell. Flagmaker’; ’Paul Watts. Tiler’; ’Mick Oxberry.

Athlete’) in which customised Minis blend into different backgrounds.

Like the Website, the cheeky, irreverent style of the campaign was aimed

at reflecting the personality of the Mini.



The final stage in July was to launch a direct mail campaign at 18,000

targets: a mixture of existing Mini owners and affluent trend-setters in

urban areas. Created by Mick Oxberry, a designer, and Simon Wood, a

copywriter at APL, the colourful, cheeky brochures resembled a

children’s mix-and-match book and allowed users to design and customise

their own Mini, taking the lead from the six illustrated characters -

flagmaker, tiler, athlete, composer, barrister and journalist. ’There

are four basic themes - retro, sport, fashion and luxury,’ Tim Watson,

the direct marketing manager at APL, explains.



’I was looking for a direct mailing piece with a high level of

stand-out and which wouldn’t end up automatically in the bin,’ Robertson

explains.



The last Mini direct mail campaign was more three years ago. ’The main

aim is to raise interest in an entertaining way. This was not like a

conventional mailing in which you are looking for a tactical call to

action, an offer to test drive the car or a privileged purchase

voucher,’ he says.



Robertson even expects to see car sales drop this year from 3,500 to an

estimated 2,500 although this doesn’t take into account the drastic

price change from pounds 6,500 for a conventional Mini to pounds 9,000

for the luxury design-your-own-version. ’It’s the initial price you have

to pay when you reposition.’



So far, the response rate to the mailing has been between 3 and 5 per

cent, higher than the average mail response. ’Between now and the launch

of the new Mini in 2000 we aim to establish a continuous dialogue with

prospective clients on a one-to-one basis,’ Robertson says. Watson adds:

’That way, when the new Mini is launched, people will be more

responsive.’



This anxiety to get the tone right may have been influenced by Rover’s

decision (Campaign, last week) to review its pounds 5 million to pounds

7 million direct marketing account. Robertson denies this reflects any

dissatisfaction with the incumbent which has, to all accounts, staged a

successful awareness campaign. ’Most companies want to see how things

are changing in the market every five years,’ he says.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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