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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – While credit unions may not have as much “open road” to play up as a car company, the Mini Cooper ads show just how far originality can take a brand. “One of things that stood out right away is that Mini is not trying to do what other car companies do which is compare themselves to the competition,” said Ann Bouchard president of Roseville, California-based marketing firm Bouchard Marketing. “Instead they play up the unique benefits the car brings to driver so they entice by differentiating themselves as opposed to saying we go faster. The result is that Mini sells itself as unique to the car world. Credit unions have the ability to do that as well if they are surrounded by big banks then they should focus on their unique attributes to sell themselves.” “The SUV backlash officially starts now” -that simple phrase has sparked a marketing campaign that has created instant consumer recognition and a growing loyal fan base. BMW’s small but solid 12-foot long, 2,600-pound Mini Cooper sedan has managed to cut across socioeconomic lines so well that everyone from students and baby boomers to millionaires and parents, are lining up to buy one. Just eight months into the campaign, U.S. brand awareness had jumped from zero to 53%- all without a national television campaign. Some 15 months after the car’s debut BMW has a growing backorder of Minis and consumers content to wait. No more than 30,000 Minis are slated to be sold annually to avoid being reduced to just a “flavor of the month”. The smart, creative campaign designed by Miami, Florida-based advertising agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky revolves around making the car an “icon” through what has been described as “hit and run” attention grabbing tactics. Billboards also play up a “Let’s Motor” tagline implying that driving becomes something more in a Mini. Like any icon, the Mini already has several film credits under its belt from Austin Powers and The Bourne Identity to the recently released The Italian Job, where a fleet of three Minis upstaged the other actors. Mini owners across the country were invited to a private premiere showing of The Italian Job and the following day newspapers nationwide had shots of Mini-packed parking lots. The free buzz generated by such publicity stunts is what has helped push this car into a top seller. When research found that one of the defining elements of an icon is that its physical presence elicits a stronger emotional reaction than images on television or in print- the Mini hit the road. In September 2001, Minis were positioned as spectators in stadiums during a football or baseball game. Playing up its small size, a Mini was also placed on top of the popular Ford Excursion SUV with a sign that read: “What are you doing for fun this weekend?” and toured 22 cities. At every stop thousands of business cards were handed out inviting consumers to visit the Web site www.Miniusa.com. The Mini could also be found outside shopping malls next to kiddie rides with a sign on the change box that says, “Rides $16,850.” According to CP+B, the goal was to target drivers who value self-expression, humor and openness-which transcend age limits and appeals to the emotions and hearts of consumers. “Credit unions are often afraid to think outside-of-the-box. There are a few trailblazers, but most credit unions are uncomfortable and tend to be more conservative,” said Bouchard. “If they would trust their creative team to assemble a campaign that gives them that edge or uniqueness they could really have something effective. Obviously as a financial institution they don’t want something crazy, but they could still develop a compelling campaign that would communicate the message and still grab the members’ attention.” Not to the same degree as credit unions, but Mini owners also become members of a special, unique “club”. Driving around town owners get smiles everywhere they go and usually people stop them to ask about the Mini. Owners can also customize their cars online ensuring that no two Minis are alike. While waiting for their car Mini owners are given a password to keep track of each step of the building process online. Once the cars are shipped, owners receive several “postcards” from their cars letting them know how they are enjoying their time on the “cruise” and how they can’t wait to hit land and “eat up some asphalt.” By the time the four to nine months have passed, owner anticipation has built to such a level that the car almost has its own personality and owners can’t wait to be introduced in person. According to El Paso,Texas-based Rockett Advertising President Anita Rockett, personalized touches like this can be emulated by credit unions of any size and will endear members, increase loyalty, and get members talking about your credit union. “While credit unions are often viewed as the smaller fish in the sea of big banks, they can still pack a wallop,” said Rockett. The Mini marketing doesn’t stop once you drive the car off the lot. A Mini Motoring Pack complete with pens, notepads, a desktop screen saver, Mini mints, motoring tips and a booklet entitled Idiosyncrasies of your Mini arrives on owners’ doorsteps two to three months after purchase. According to the agency, in addition to a quality product and superior service, it is the surprises and irreverence of the campaign that keeps it from going stale. For example, the Mini had its own centerfold “spread” complete with bio in Playboy magazine (see above) and an AutoWeek ad showed the Mini maneuvering around the magazine’s center staples. The Mini was even featured in a supermarket tabloid in a story about Bat Boy stealing a Mini. Nicolette Lemmon, president of Tempe, Arizona-based LemmonTree Enterprises, Inc. cautions that while it is important for credit unions to be viewed as more “hip” there must still be a measurable bottom line return on investment of those dollars spent on that campaign. “I do agree that credit unions do need to appeal to the younger market because they are the future and in about 10 years they will have as much if not more of an impact than baby boomers,” said Lemmon. “Fun awareness building campaigns are great but the problem is that many credit unions don’t have enough budget to keep it going. Too often these types of campaigns are viewed as `fluff and no return’ and the frustration is to find the balance. So very often many have a `sales mentality’ where they look at sales today and do not invest in tomorrow. It takes up to a year to shift the consumers’ mentality of what the credit union was to the new message of what it is and that is a longer term investment that takes a vision and a commitment not to waiver from it.” Lemmon adds that it is not an impossible task and it should be interesting to see what the future brings. The Mini campaign, now in its second year will continue to reinforce the car’s fun-loving reputation. The Mini message to credit unions may be simply this – consider taking the road less traveled. Credit unions are known for working on a shoestring budget, so taking a chance to create imaginative, unique, fun opportunities that surprise and tap into members’ basic needs may just help take the credit union brand to the next level. [email protected]

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