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You Thought the Subservient Chicken Was Cool

The CP+B did it again, now for the Mini cooper. Strange world, strange imagination. Check out their new viral campaign and the story behind it at business2.blogs.com »

In my apartment I have a basket full of magazines, and the other day, I found a strange insert that had fallen out of one of the magazines, though I'm not sure which one. It was an excerpt from a soon-to-be-published book by Rowland Samuel called "Men of Metal: Eyewitness Accounts of Humanoid Robots." You can download the excerpt from the publisher here.

Its a sort of conspiracy yarn for Area 51 types, except instead of aliens, it describes a string of humanoid robot sightings in Oxford, England, in which endangered motorists are seemingly rescued by robots. But there's always a bright flash of light, and no one is quite sure what happens. The book is written in the first person, as the writer describes his attempts to get to the bottom of the sightings. After discovering a Mini Cooper tailpipe at one of the scenes, and stumbling upon an eccentric but AWOL robotics professor who helped developed the new Mini Cooper, he theorizes that the doctor is building robots in his garage out of car parts. Turns out the professor's home consumes 10 times more electricity than most homes its size.

It seemed ridiculous, and the excerpt was so skeletal I couldn't imagine there'd be enough information for a book. But the excerpt looked just like a legit book excerpt, and the fact that I couldn't locate the magazine it came from was sort of freaking me out. So I turned to Google. There I found the professor's web site, the writer's web site, and the publisher's site. I also found a BMW message board where users had posted awestruck links to the professor's web site and wondered, why haven't we heard about this? As I scrolled through the discussion, the posters revealed the truth. They'd all gotten the excerpt in recent issues of various auto magazines, and it was a hoax.

But not just any old hoax. A big ol' marketing ploy brought to you by the geniuses at Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, who handle the Mini account. At least, I think it was them, though none of the fake evidence they've constructed on the web—the prof's site, the page for Casson Publishing—ever indicates that CPB or the Mini Cooper is behind the whole thing.

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deeped's picture

Of course it's a part of the plot. I think advertising is too far off when disresepecting the consumer. To fool them a little, triggering the consumer imagination isn't disrep - rather the advertising of soap and such bulk-advertising is disrespectful, those advertising who somewhat clings to a "the-stupid-consumer"-perspective.

aiiobo's picture

I wonder - how long before there will be legal requirements, say "advertsiment" written in the titel tags or similar.

adlib's picture

*raises grogg-glass in a toast to the interesting chat in here*

Troymcclure, that Mini Ad you describe is brilliant like a classic ad and I'm sure it will rake in the awards. I too ponder how people will react to these new trickery-techniques.
There seems to be different kinds of consumers, those who get tricked and don't mind as long as the trickery was "entertaining" (a young demographic), those who hate any sort of shilling and hate trickery even more - these people will be convinced by the Miniad you described/classic "honest" advertising... And a group who pretend to be "in on it" - ie; Those who like the Diesel ads where we should "Love nature while it lasts", hate the McDonald guy and other pokes at our current wasteful consumer society - while consuming fashion, the ultimate waste if you think about it! I'm not sure how that latter group ticks.

deeped's picture

Ah... I adore the chair you sit on and the ground beneath your feet :)...

A perfect grogg is:
in a longdrink-glass
pour some booze (vodka is ok, no taste) - about a third for a grogg of vikings
fill up with soda of your choice
put down a couple of icecubes (this is optional)

There are no other ways ;)

Dabitch's picture

subterfuge: something intended to misrepresent the true nature of an activity, a deceptive device or stratagem. ;) You made sense to me.

Grogg = Swedish booze! ;)

deeped's picture

I'm from Sweden and that "subter..."-word I couldn't find out. Although - of course: both campaigns works - but on different levels and probably on different targets.

The robotic hoax: probably targeted at the younger, sci-fi'ed, urban man (and woman) whose biggest fear is to be bored. This ain't boring. Mini comes in top of the ad-mind. They see the car as cool and all their friends have read the campaign and when one comes with a Mini they got rep.

The tech ad: targets a little older public. Those who remember things being bigger and slower can get it - an eighteen-year old has no resemblance with the old computersystems or the cellular of the eighties.

And in general this put the spot on the biggest problem of putting a concept together: that we

troymcclure's picture

You make a very valid point, Deep Ed. (Any relation to Drivers Ed?) You're right, of course. Very few people will be outraged when they discover that the robots made out of Mini parts are a hoax. It all sounds very clever and entertaining. And it's certainly benign compared to outright scams such as having people flirt with strangers only to try to sell them a particular brand of drink or cell phone.

Nonetheless, on some level, I can't help but wonder if such subterfuege - and yes, I know I probably spelled that wrong - doesn't have a corrosive effect. If everything's a hustle, a gimmick, a come-on, people become less trusting and more cynical.

I certainly agree with Deep Ed that inane advertising that insults consumers' intelligence - i.e., the kind that I do - has given our industry a bad name. But so, I fear, will the kind of advertising that seeks to win their trust by tricking them. And do the claims made by these undercover ads seem any more believable once people realize they've been "had?"

Finally, thinking about the "overkill" nature of the latest Mini campaign, I can't help but compare it with another current Mini campaign. It's a series of magazine ads showing how technology tends to get better as it gets smaller - such as computers and cell phones. The final frame shows the Mini. The point is made, simply and beautifully, without any words - or fake websites or bogus books.

Is it better or worse? I don't know. But it works.

Dabitch's picture
deeped's picture

Good post. Great thoughts.
I think that a customer see the pamflett and stuff as relation. I mean, even though it's after a while it's clear that the book and rumors is a hoax we like to be tickled. CP+R give the consumer some history to fantazise around. That's pretty more than the majority of ads is giving.

To put the Fishy Volvo-serial in this perspective they put the epilogue to "stop" this "what-happened-next"-thinking (although I want to know what happened to the dog...).

People want to be entertained. The servientchicken viral, the Minibot-hoax and likewise is entertaining. Customer that Mini wants to be Mini-drivers don't being decieved in a manner they don't wish. The others (those in Volvos ;)) might be feeling decieved but they wouldn't buy a Mini whatever the agency came up with.

Dabitch's picture

and now New York Times are onto it....

THE truth is out there about Mini Cooper car parts being used to build humanlike robots. But do you really believe everything you read?

The mischievous folks at Crispin Porter & Bogusky in Miami certainly hope so. They have concocted an elaborate advertising campaign disguised as a debate over whether a British engineer has built robots out of Mini car parts - or not.

Dabitch's picture

.... it seems manipulative at best and downright dishonest at worst. I was mulling on this as well - when is too far, too far? Especially now that I''ve seen some sites and forums cry an opposite wolf, that the "marketing" part which is coming out now is intended as a coverup to hide the fact that some brilliant robotmaker did indeed make robots out of minis. Oh dear. Worst thing is, I'm beginning to suspect those voices to be part of the marketing campaign. *gets dizzy, falls over*

troymcclure's picture

Hello, I'm Troy McClure. You may remember me from such posts as "Rats in Quizno's Commercials?" and "Goodby Ripping Off McClain Finlon."

Here's the thing: While I haven't had the benefit of seeing Crispin's latest "marketing ploy" on behalf of the Mini Cooper, I'm sure it's nothing short of bloody brilliant and will be sweeping award shows on every continent - including Antartica.

But is it overkill?

I mean, a 40-page book and multiple websites? Isn't that just a tad excessive and - dare I say it - self-indulgent?

Sure, it's getting buzz. But they generated just as much heat with far more simple, elegant and arresting executions. Remember the Mini mounted on the top of the SUV? Or the coin-operated one parked in a mall offering rides for a couple of thousand quarters?

They were intriguing to be sure - but the pay off was immediate and to the point.

This latest execution, by contrast, seems like the world's shaggiest dog story - all set up and very little pay off. The punch line seems almost anticlimatic.

Still, it's hard to argue with success. The robot controversy seems to be getting a lot of press for Crispin. . . uh, I mean, the Mini Cooper.

On a semi-related note, this discussion raises a couple of questions. Is advertising that tries to pretend it's not advertising necessarily a good thing? I mean, sure, a lot of it is wonderfully clever. But it seems manipulative at best and downright dishonest at worst. Instead of trying to engage in a dialog with the consumer, you're trying to outwit them instead. Does this ultimately lead to ever more jaded consumers? And is it even necessary? Remember the words of Howard Gossage: "People read what interests them - and sometimes it's an ad." So why go to such lengths to disguise and deceive your customers? Maybe all you need to do is create an ad that is so engaging and entertaining that people will want to invest time in it.

Which leads me to another question: The idea of treating the whole world as a potential media buy - to not just being limited to such traditional media as print and broadcast - is certainly a good one. But can it be taken too far? Take the recent Major League Baseball/Spiderman controversy. Sure, it was a unique placement. But the reaction was uniformly negative. How far is too far? When does guerilla marketing go from being innovative to invasive and intrusive?

Sorry this post went on for so long. I'd like to hear what others think.

Dabitch's picture

you've seen the European campaigns that build on the obsessed engineers of VW who quadruplecheck everything = a "safe reliable car" proposition? The similarities end there, though.

brandonbarr's picture


I said it was their message. Not necessarily the truth. ;)

Dabitch's picture

I'm having a VW flashback - it started when you said "Obsessed".... ;))

brandonbarr's picture

The payoff is subtle, but there: Mini engineers are so obsessed with safety that they'll go to no ends to achieve it.

CopyWhore's picture

Even if CPB are building Transformers (remember them, people?) out of Mini parts... So what? It may create buzz, dialogue, coverage -- free PR, in other words. But is there a pay-off to any of this bullocks? Or is it just more masturbation?