5 Things I Learned: How Mini Cooper Countered the Big Thinking of America
Last Thursday, my colleagues and I attended the Art Directors Club of Philadelphia’s 2017 Influencers Speaker Series which kicked off with a discussion with Mini Cooper’s Marketing Communications and Launch Manager, Lee Nadler. As a Mini Cooper owner, I was excited to hear firsthand how the brand has maintained a fresh marketing standpoint. Lee, hailed as one of Ad Age’s 21 people to watch in the 21st century, offered a lot of great information. Here are 5 things I learned about MINI’s journey of turning a European car brand into something Americans could embrace.
1. They have a long history of innovation.
The MINI brand was first created in England in 1959 as a fuel-efficient car designed to seat a family of four and their luggage comfortably. To accomplish these specific needs, its designers set up four chairs with suitcases to determine just how much space was needed, turned the fuel tank on its side and used their famous wheels-at-the-corner layout to maximize the car’s interior space. These innovative approaches would eventually be a staple in their brand’s success.
2. They aren’t afraid to step up to a challenge.
While MINI was a very successful brand in Europe, America’s perception of its style affected their popularity stateside. Americans commonly stereotyped the MINI as a “startup” car that lacked a premium quality, labeling it as being “too cute.” MINI faced the challenge of adapting its car to a different culture and finding an ultimate solution that would help it's brand thrive in a country where people think “bigger is better.” MINI's solution: a “Defying Labels” campaign.
3. When America goes low, MINI goes high.
To counter these stereotypes, the company launched the campaign “Defying Labels,” which focused on the misconceptions that the brand—and people in general—face daily. In the campaign’s commercials, popular American figures such as Serena Williams, Michael Whinnett, Michai Stephens, Tony Hawk, Abby Wambach and T-Pain described the stereotypes they face and the process they took to overcome them. As Serena Williams stated, “Don’t worry about what anybody else says… No one can define you, only you can define you.”
After the success of these commercials, MINI expanded the campaign further by sponsoring the USA Olympic team. In these commercials, athletes described the labels placed on them—poor, foster kid, black, immigrant, cancer patient, small and Muslim—followed by the statement: “The only label that matters is “Olympian.” By diluting the power of a label, Lee and his team took the opportunity to encourage others to think twice before applying stereotypes.
4. There’s nothing mini about MINI’s compassion.
MINI didn’t stop its messaging at heart-warming commercials. In fact, they took compassion on the road and teamed up with Feeding America, which raised enough funds to provide more than 1.3 million meals for the hungry. For this initiative, MINI USA and thousands of MINI Owners traveled over 4,300 miles to raise money for the cause.
5. They’re encouraging others to get creative.
The brand pushed even further to find a way to use design to create a more caring world. The result: the opening of a design space called A/D/O in Greenpoint in Brooklyn, geared “to serve the creative community, locally and globally.” A/D/O provides a retail shop, restaurant, workspace, fabrication lab, special projects gallery, public areas and more to not only help break barriers but to also spark creativity.
Within a one-hour presentation, Lee shared how through the application of compassion, creativity, and an open mind, we can exceed all limitations. And, if we look past the labels, we will find in each other and ourselves a beacon of hope, a unified outlook and a brand we can trust.