For over 10 years, MINI grew its brand on the back of being a countercultural underdog—a cheeky rebel that took on the traditional, often boring and predictable, aspects of U.S. car culture. Those efforts helped the brand build a strong community and generate reasonably healthy sales. To take it to the next level, however, the brand needed to grow up. MINI was set to debut the new MINI Clubman, the largest and most expensive MINI ever, but research conducted with premium car buyers revealed the brand was not even on their radar.
In the American cultural landscape, there had been a rise in divisiveness, which social media served to amplify. We believed it was time for MINI to take a stand that was rooted in its nearly six decades of heritage. From its earliest days in 1960s England, MINI was a vehicle that crossed societal boundaries—a car driven by everyone, from royalty to pop stars like the Beatles, and, of course, regular folks.
When assessing MINI, some of these regular folks had many historical preconceptions of the brand and its vehicles. And because of those surface-level impressions and stereotypes, they were quick to write off the brand as uninteresting. From qualitative research, we found that consumers viewed the brand as “cute” or a “chick car” and, in many cases, a car that simply didn’t fit their lifestyles. To have the brand reconsidered, MINI would have to offer them more and provide a point of view.
We decided to confront the many labels that the brand and its owners have been given to demonstrate that MINI is much more than a frivolous small-car brand. It’s very much a brand with both substance and a soul. It’s a car that helps Defy Labels.
We introduced the campaign in one of the only remaining tentpole events of live TV—the Super Bowl. With the help of some well-known MINI owners— Serena Williams, Abby Wambach, Randy Johnson, Tony Hawk, T-Pain and others—we embraced everything MINI has ever been called and abruptly turned those labels on their heads. Together we proved that those who defy labels define themselves. This effort included not only a spot in the big game, but a web of digital and social content designed to deepen people’s engagement with the brand in a meaningful way. We knew we were touching on something much bigger when the Washington Post called our effort “a masterpiece.”
While the campaign lived on and evolved throughout the year, another key beat included BMW’s sponsorship of the Olympic Games. We found members of Team USA who had overcome adversity and labels en route to the world stage in Rio. For instance, Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first U.S. Olympian to wear the hijab in competition at the Olympic Games. Carlin Isles, who grew up in foster care and is now a bona fide superstar on Team USA’s rugby squad. Jake Gibb, who defied his stage II cancer diagnosis to represent America in beach volleyball. We celebrated these athletes who Defy Labels, as the only label that matters is “Olympian.”
The Defy Labels campaign forced people to rethink the brand, driving a huge shift in perception. Overall, the brand’s net impression score averaged 140% higher than the baseline, demonstrating the positive impact the campaign had on brand perception. Not only did perception shift, but the campaign also brought new users into the brand. Seventy-four percent of total visits to the site throughout the campaign were from people new to the MINI brand. How did this affect leads? MINI saw leads balloon nearly 15% year over year throughout the duration of the campaign. And on top of all of this, the campaign generated continuous buzz, with MINI Brand Consumer Buzz reaching an 18-month high. In other words, a job very well done.