Counterfeit MINI Coopers

After the United States mandated collapsible steering wheels in 1967, the British Mini Cooper retreated back to the United Kingdom and was not sold stateside for 35 years. Reintroduced in 2002 after being purchased and then reengineered by Bayerische Motoren-Werke AG (BMW), the MINI Cooper, as it was later capitalized, began a long series of unorthodox advertising campaigns. Whether it was being strapped to the roofs of SUVs or parked in the bleachers of sports venues, the car rapidly gained traction within the premium-small-car sector. While Volkswagen AG’s New Beetle and DaimlerChrysler AG’s PT Cruiser sales suffered in 2005, the MINI Cooper flourished under the brand’s ‘‘Let’s Motor’’ tagline. Hoping to not only to entertain consumers but also to immerse them deeper within the MINI Cooper brand, BMW released its ‘‘Counterfeit’’ campaign on February 14, 2005.

With an estimated budget of $25 million, the advertising agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky launched ‘‘Counterfeit’’ across television, DVD, Internet, and print mediums. Airing only on cable networks, the campaign’s one TV commercial warned viewers of fictional counterfeiters who were supposedly selling counterfeit MINI Coopers on the black market. The commercial directed viewers to http://www.CounterfeitMini.org, a website created by the Counter Counterfeit Commission (CCC), an equally fictional watchdog organization that educated consumers about MINI Cooper counterfeits. If website visitors wanted to learn more, they could order a DVD containing the 10-minute spoof ‘‘Counterfeit MINI Cooper,’’ which absurdly documented con artists converting junk cars into look-alike MINI Coopers. For March 2005, MINI Cooper posted its highest sales month ever and surpassed the previous March by 44 percent. At the Cannes International Advertising Festival in 2005 the campaign garnered a Gold Lion as well as the only American-won Titanium Lion. The ceremony awarded four Titanium Lions to work that the judges considered to be innovative and that utilized several mediums.

Even though the British Mini Cooper was an extremely popular car throughout the United Kingdom, its American stint ended in 1967 after collapsible steering wheels were required on every new car sold. Sales of the Mini increasingly dropped after its 1960s heyday. Eventually the Mini brand and other British automobiles were managed by the Rover Group, which was purchased by BMW in 1994. At first BMWwas unsure of how to reintroduce the tiny car to the United States. Even after engineers modernized the interior, upgraded the car with a 115-hp Chrysler engine, and increased the length by 20 inches, it was still the smallest car in the U.S. market. By 2001 consumer trends, including the burgeoning markets for SUVs and full-size trucks, suggested a daunting forecast for theMINI Cooper. ‘‘If we’d listened to the market research, we’d have never done the MINI Cooper,’’ Jack Pitney, general manager of Mini USA, admitted to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

In 2002 Crispin Porter + Bogusky released what was the first of many innovative advertisements for the MINI Cooper. To promote the car’s recreational qualities, MINI Coopers were welded onto the roofs of SUVs and driven cross-country. Crispin Porter + Bogusky parked MINI Coopers in the seating sections of sporting arenas. Supermarket tabloids warned about ‘‘mutant bat boy in MINI Cooper.’’ Playboy magazine allowed a MINI Cooper to be featured as a centerfold in 2002. Worldwide sales for the MINI Cooper S skyrocketed 46 percent in 2003. As part of the ‘‘MINI Robots’’ campaign, in 2004 a booklet was inserted into consumer magazines such as Motor Trend, National Geographic, and Rolling Stone. The booklets were written by the fictional Roland Samuel, a journalist validating stories about robots made from MINI Cooper parts that prevented traffic accidents in Oxford, England. Hoping to continue its string of innovative campaigns, creatives at Crispin Porter + Bogusky wanted to create a 2005 campaign with a ‘‘call to action,’’ or advertising that motivated consumers to look someplace else for brand information. The ad agency reasoned that the more time a consumer invested with a brand, the more likely it was that he or she would tell others about it.

‘‘Counterfeit’’ targeted men 18 to 34 years old. The campaign’s 60-second commercial did not air on network television, where advertising cost more, but rather across cable channels popular with men, such as ESPN, MTV, and Spike TV. ‘‘Cable offers many more opportunities than the broadcast TV networks, at lower prices,’’ Jim Poh, media director of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, told Automotive News. ‘‘Cable is going to be a more effective use of your dollars. In a nutshell, the viewers of these channels have the MINI mindset.’’ One requirement for the ‘‘MINI mindset’’ was a sense of humor.

The campaign’s TV commercial, along with the website to which it directed viewers, http://www.CounterfeitMINI.org, facetiously showed junk cars painted to resemble MINI Coopers. ‘‘Mini customers appreciate the joke. They are a group that doesn’t like being hit in the face with traditional advertising,’’ Pitney told the Wall Street Journal. ‘‘They are very much into discovery. They like to come upon something in an interesting way and learn about it on their own terms.’’

The ‘‘Counterfeit’’ campaign displayed MINI Cooper’s signature characteristics, such as the car’s colorful graphics and performance capabilities, in a way that ‘‘entertains and engages people,’’ Alex Bogusky, Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s principal, told Adweek. ‘‘You can’t just push things into enough eyeballs anymore,’’ he said. ‘‘It has to be so much fun that it’s worth their time, that you’ve entertained them and taught them about the product at the same time.’’


On February 14, 2005, a 60-second commercial began appearing across cable channels such as Spike TV, Speed Channel, Sci-Fi Channel, and Outdoor Life Network. The spot posed as a public-service announcement from the fictional Counter Counterfeit Commission (CCC). The CCC was supposedly alerting the public about a recent outbreak of counterfeit MINI Coopers. The spot first explained the counterfeiting of luxury watches, sunglasses, and most recently, MINI Coopers. Footage showed high-end watch and sunglass knockoffs in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro flea markets, followed by a dilapidated car that was decaled with racing stripes. The spot then announced the availability of a 10-minute DVD that educated consumers about fake MINI Coopers and included testimonials from previously defrauded consumers. A man with his face obscured and voice altered admitted, ‘‘I bought a MINI for $1,200 bucks. ‘Let’s Motor,’ right?’’ To which the voice-over answered, ‘‘Wrong!’’ The commercial continued with additional humorous footage of counterfeit MINI Coopers, followed by beautiful images of the real thing. The commercial ended with voiceover explaining, ‘‘To order Counterfeit MINIs, visit CounterfeitMINI.org or send a self-addressed-stampedenvelop to the Counter Counterfeit Commission.’’

The DVD, which sold for $19.95, provided more tongue-in-cheek information about counterfeit MINI Coopers. Besides the campaign’s main website, http://www.CounterfeitMini.org, which provided detailed informational about counterfeit and authentic MINI Coopers, another website was created that supposedly auctioned counterfeit MINI Coopers. Conveniently, the auctions had all been closed. Bryan Buckley directed the campaign’s filming in Rio de Janeiro. The footage was later edited to compose the 60-second television spot, the DVD, and the additional footage that was posted on the website. Collectively, it offered ‘‘an hour’s entertainment, maybe, and that’s a good trade for your time and your attention,’’ Bogusky told the Wall Street Journal. To further validate the CCC’s warnings, a pop-up message on http://www.MINIUSA.com directed consumers to call the CCC hotline if counterfeit MINI Coopers were spotted. Fictional brochures were also inserted in consumer magazines to warn about counterfeit MINI Coopers.

One of the campaign’s challenges was its limited $25 million budget. To compete against Volkswagen, which spent an estimated $400 million on advertising in 2005, Crispin Porter + Bogusky devised a campaign outside of traditional formats. ‘‘Given that there is not a lot of difference among products in any given category, advertising is the differentiator,’’ Chuck Porter, chairman of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, told Television Week. ‘‘We believe that making a brand a part of pop culture [is more effective].’’
Some analysts criticized the campaign’s deceptive quality, which could leave its target audience feeling betrayed. Also, for consumers to experience the full breadth of the campaign, they needed to visit the website, an extra step that complicated the campaign’s message. Many advertising agencies, fearful of the strategy’s overall risk, avoided such ‘‘call to action’’ campaigns. Tim Mellors, who had executed ‘‘call to action’’ campaigns as chief creative officer of WPP Group’s Grey Worldwide North America, explained the benefit of this strategy to the Wall Street Journal: ‘‘You know perfectly well that most people won’t bother, but when you get it right, it’s another stage of involvement that’s never been there in the past.’’

For the MINI Cooper ‘‘Counterfeit’’ campaign the advertising agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky created a spoof website titled http://www.CounterfeitMini.org. The site supposedly warned consumers about counterfeit MINI Coopers flooding the car market. In one section of the website, titled ‘‘TOUGH LOVE,’’ a visitor could use his or her mouse to slap a counterfeit MINI Cooper owner who had supposedly bought an antique car, fashioned with MINI Cooper fog lamps and racing stripes, thinking it was a MINI Cooper.

RESULTS
The ‘‘Counterfeit’’ campaign yielded success soon after its launch. In March 2005 MINI Cooper recorded its highest monthly sales posting ever and surpassed the previous March’s earnings by 44 percent. Fairing well at award shows, the campaign won a Gold Lion Award at the Cannes International Advertising Festival in 2005 and also received a Titanium Lion. The latter was given to the four campaigns considered most effective at using multiple mediums. ‘‘Counterfeit’’ was the only American campaign to win a Titanium Lion in 2005.
Crispin Porter + Bogusky also noticed a surge of chatter in automotive blogs and MINI Cooper chat rooms regarding the ‘‘Counterfeit’’ ads. Alex Bogusky, serving as a guest writer for Advertising Age’s Creativity, stated, ‘‘I’m very happy to see the MINI ‘Counterfeit’ work getting recognized. It was a massive undertaking and a labor of joy for so many people at the agency, and it’s the kind of work that gives us personally the greatest joy because the interaction with consumers, from the TV to the web, is so fun to watch. You actually get to see and read e-mails and blog entries from people who are being persuaded and entertained by MINI and the MINI brand. The relationship between brand and consumer is created so transparently and quickly, it’s almost like creating advertising live on stage.’’

Advertising Agency: Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Miami
Executive Creative Director: Alex Bogusky
Creative Director: Jeff Benjamin, Andrew Keller
Associate Creative Director: Steve O’Connell
Art Director: Rahul Panchal, Tiffany Kosel, Paul Stechschulte
Copywriter: Rob Reilly, Franklin Tipton
Producer: Amy Blondell, Paul Sutton
Designer: Michael Ferrare, Rahul Panchal



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