'Cute car' finds link with stars

Serena Williams, one of the well-known faces who owned a Mini.
Serena Williams, one of the well-known faces who owned a Mini.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

NEW YORK • Contrary to conventional wisdom, Super Bowl commercials featuring celebrities often fail to connect with viewers.

They can be highly effective, however, when viewers see the celebrities as having an authentic connection with the brand.

That is the creative strategy Mini USA will employ during CBS' telecast of Super Bowl 50 on Feb 7.

The automaker is preparing a 30-second commercial for its Mini Clubman starring six well-known faces: tennis superstar Serena Williams, recently retired soccer great Abby Wambach, rapper T-Pain, former major league pitcher Randy Johnson, skateboarder Tony Hawk and actor Harvey Keitel.

All have some history with the brand.

Williams, for example, owned a yellow two-door Mini with a checkered hardtop. Johnson used to fit his 2m frame into a red two-door Mini hardtop while commuting to Yankee Stadium.

"Either they've driven in the car in the past, own the cars currently or have some sort of relationship," said Mr Tom Noble, department head of Mini brand communications.

The commercial, which was conceived by the ad agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners in California, will mark the beginning of a six-month brand campaign centered on the theme: Defy Labels.

With seating for five, the sport wagon will be the biggest Mini.

The theme is meant to signal that Mini is defying those who say it sells only two-door hatchbacks.

"Mini as a car brand has been labelled a chick car, a cute car, a small car," Mr Noble said. "But once you've driven the car, all those labels disappear."

Over coming weeks, Mini will roll out a series of online videos in which the endorsers will speak about disregarding the labels others have put on them.

The first videos were to become available yesterday at miniusa.com/ DefyLabels.

Mr John Butler, the advertising agency's chief creative officer, said the message "is simply, don't give others the power to label you. Instead, define yourself".

Mini has long been a favourite of musicians, actors and artists. With the roomier Clubman, Mini now hopes to interest families.

Many owners of two-door Minis trade up to bigger vehicles when they have children. The new Clubman "is really a chance for us to say, 'You can still get a Mini in a larger package'," Mr Noble said.

It remains to be seen if the audience will respond.

Since 2010, celebrities have starred in a third of all Super Bowl advertisements, according to the analytics company Ace Metrix.

But many of those commercials flopped with viewers, who sometimes simply did not warm to "polarising" endorsers such as Kim Kardashian, who appeared in an advertisement for T-Mobile last year.

"It's almost like a movie," said Mr Peter Daboll, chief executive officer of Ace.

"An actor can be in a great movie or a terrible movie. It has to do with the story."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2016, with the headline ''Cute car' finds link with stars'. Print Edition | Subscribe