’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
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
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
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
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
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
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.