Posted by: David Kiley on February 22, 2007
MINI has launched a webisode serial that stars a talking MINI reminiscent of the 1982-86 TV show Knight Rider. Indeed, the whole serial, titled Hammer & Coop, is meant to conjure pangs of nostalgia for TV shows like Starsky & Hutch and MacGyver among MINI’s main audience—Baby Boomers and the older end of Generation X.
The effect, however, is more reminiscent of the non-porn action films that the character Dirk Diggler tried to make in “Boogie Nights.” In the first episode character Hammer escapes from a rough looking character, Reggie, who is after “Coop” on behalf of an evil businessman. On his way to eluding his chaser, he stops at a bikini car wash where a couple of buxom babes wash the car. The second episode opens with Hammer emerging from a cheap hotel room in a comically short bathrobe, with the blonde car-washer behind him on the balcony. But Reggie has caught up with Hammer and pursues him in a chase from the hotel.
The story will continue for several weeks, with weekly installments. The idea here is to attract men 28-54, according to MINI marketing manager Trudy Hardy. Not much for the women. But Hardy says women like it too in focus groups. It’s also meant to be fun. But here’s my problem. The actor playing Hammer is doing nothing more than aping the performance of Ben Stiller in the film Starsky & Hutch. Perhaps its no coincidence that the same director who made that film directed these webisodes. Hey…MINI recycles!
The MINI brand has had new life breathed into it by BMW. The car that launched in 2002 in the U.S. was a perfect execution of design. It wasn’t so much retro as it was exactly the car that MINI’s original designers and engineers would have built if they were working in the late 1990s. It is a thoroughly modern, wonderful, emotive design.
MINI defines an entire category. The new 2007 design can be hard to tell from the old model, but there have been many improvements under the hood.
MINI’s marketing has been terrific as well. The old agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, found just the right non-traditional marketing notes to launch the car and the brand. Among my favorites were putting the MINI in sports stadiums in spaces made by taking seats out so that the car was in the crowd, not parked outside the arena.
New agency—Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners—have done some cool things too. There are digital billboards that seem to speak directly to MINI owners by name as they drive their cars near enough to a board by way of reding a digital chip in the key-fob. I like that idea. It’s original.
But these webisodes…sorry…miss the point. They are a send-up of a TV genre that was funny without intending to be so. The original episodes of Starsky & Hutch were hilarious without trying to be. Now, MINI is trying to do a funny homage. And it misses. Badly.
It was a bad idea to begin with. The MINI brand commands that creatives working on it operate in utterly original space. Doing an homage of something that was unintentionally hilarious is a creative death march. I direct you to Saturday Night Live sketches that don’t work, which, these days, comprise about 75% of what winds up on the air.
These things are subjective, of course. But I know I am right.