It's not business as normal anymore at Mini.
The small car brand has posted outsize sales growth for the last few years, but now competition has started to ding the brand as rivals like Ford and Toyota introduce a widening array of small, fuel-efficient cars.
Mini is fighting back with new executions in its "Not normal" advertising campaign from Butler, Shine Stern & Partners, a Sausalito, Calif., ad agency.
The creative ad strategy allowed the agency to hold onto the Mini account after the automaker's review in 2012.
The idea is to push Mini's peculiarity and stand out from brands like Chevrolet's Spark, which outsold Mini in July of this year according to Automotive News' Data Center.
Tom Salkowsky, Mini's marketing chief, said it's a continuation of the brand's long-time strategy of turning left while the rest of the auto companies turn right.
"We're a feisty, small brand. We're a featherweight in the ring with heavyweights. We have to stick and move," he said.
"We're still telling a story. But we're using everything in our toolbox to do that. It keeps it interesting," said John Butler, principal at Butler Shine.
The Mini way
The younger, offbeat car buyers Mini targets don't like traditional advertising. So Mini has always relied on clever stunts and event marketing, inviting fans to experience its brands at events where they feel comfortable and via social media.
"You won't find us a lot on TV," said Salkowsy, because experiential and non-traditional marketing is "really the Mini way."
It's also a lot less expensive.
The small, independent BMW Group brand spent less than $20 million on traditional media in 2012, according to Kantar Media. That's a pittance compared to the budget of competitors, such as Fiat, which spent nearly $80 million in 2012.
The "Not normal" push started this year includes a series of lampposts with replica Mini's hung upside down from the top. The signs on the roofs read: "Not Normal."
The automaker put up one Mini lamppost (with the headlights serving as working streetlights) at the annual South by Southwest music, tech and interactive conference in Austin, Texas. Mini has put up a similar lamppost in Boston and plans to build another in Hollywood.
"People were taking pictures; sharing it. That was the whole plan. To seed 'Not Normal' in a very non-traditional way," said Salkowsky.
It's also running road rallies.
In August, Mini invited customers -- in Mini-speak, "motorists" -- to try to break the Guinness World Record for the biggest-ever parade of Mini vehicles with a mass-crossing of Michigan's 500-foot high, 26,372-foot long Mackinac Bridge.
The "Mini on the Mack" event didn't break the record. But it still spurred 1,700 people driving 848 Mini's from as far away as Cahlifornia, Texas and Florida to participate.
Hundreds of Mini owners showed up for recent 'Mini on the Mack' event in Michigan.
There was an owner from San Francisco who drove 2,300 miles, one way, to get there.
So what would make somebody drive 4,600 miles to drive across a bridge?" asks Salkowsky. "Is that normal? No. They love being around one another. They love the community of Mini, meeting other owners, seeing their Mini's and hearing their stories about how they personalize their Minis."
Similarly, Mini organizes a bi-annual "Mini Takes the States" road trips where its top executives drive cross-country with thousands of owners.