The Truth Behind the Men of Metal

No idea how we missed this but the New York Times recently dove into the world the “Men of Metal” with an article describing how the marketing campaign was created. While discerning readers of MotoringFile have known that the campaign was indeed a campaign, it apparently fooled quite a few out there. But even more interesting are the ideas proposed by the 2 Walls Webzine about the exact conclusion to the campaign. But we'll get to this later. First here's an excerpt from the NYT article:

The truth is out there about Mini Cooper car parts being used to build humanlike robots. But do you really believe everything you read?

The mischievous folks at Crispin Porter & Bogusky in Miami certainly hope so. They have concocted an elaborate advertising campaign disguised as a debate over whether a British engineer has built robots out of Mini car parts – or not.

The advertising, presented as a debate reminiscent of “The X-Files” or “The Blair Witch Project,” has been quietly under way since early March. It extends across five Web sites, postings in chat rooms and booklets inserted in magazines like Motor Trend, National Geographic Adventure and Rolling Stone. The 40-page booklets pretend to be excerpts from a book, “Men of Metal: Eyewitness Accounts of Humanoid Robots,” from a fake London publisher specializing in conspiracy-theory literature covering the likes of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and U.F.O.'s.

None of the elements of the stealthy campaign – with a budget that is, not surprisingly, not being disclosed – are identified as advertising for the sponsor, the Mini Cooper car brand or as the creations of Crispin Porter. The agency and its client have remained mum about their roles, even in the face of mounting inquiries as to whether the tall tale of the robots is true or false.

“Most people seem to want to believe,” said Alex Bogusky, partner and executive creative director at Crispin Porter, to the point that when some skeptical consumers asserted it was advertising, “others said, 'They're saying it's marketing to cover up it's real.' “

Cloaking the commercial nature of the campaign runs the risk of alienating consumers. But so far, “the feedback we've received has been extremely positive,” said Kerri Martin, manager for marketing communications at Mini USA in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., owned by the German automaker BMW.

“One e-mail from a reader of Rolling Stone said that after he and a friend had quite a debate whether it was real or unreal, they decided it didn't matter either way,” Ms. Martin said, because “they were glad to see car marketing could be fun again.”

The truth about the campaign, which Mini USA and Crispin Porter call “interactive fiction,” is to be finally revealed this month. Wall posters are to go up in big cities like Los Angeles and New York, featuring the Mini Cooper logo above images of the “motorbots.” Those images will also turn up on the brand's official Web site (

The goal of the unconventional campaign – the most recent in an innovative series from Crispin Porter since the Mini Cooper came out in March 2002 – is to help generate that elusive quality known as buzz for the car, particularly among mechanical-minded male drivers who may be put off by women's praise of it as cute.

“The key is to make the product visible to consumers in ways they will seek more information about it,” said Susan Jacobs, president of Jacobs & Associates, an automotive research company in Rutherford, N.J. “Mini has found a quirky approach that's unique enough to be its own.”

You can read the entire article here

So there's nothing too shocking in the article but it does a nice job of tying everything together for us… or does it? (cue scary music) It gets even more interesting when you consider some of the ideas that come from The 2 Walls Webzine (we posted their first story on the topic as a good introduction to the whole compaign last week) on Men of Metal and on the recent NYT article. Here's an excerpt of that article:

Well, it seems the “Men of Metal” hoax has reached a “Blair Witch Project” level of hype, as the frenzy of internet traffic continues to bombard message boards and blog pages. All this, even after the New York Times “broke” the story to the masses, quoting Mini Cooper’s ad agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, as saying the ad campaign was “interactive fiction.”

…So the obvious conclusion to the “Men of Metal” hoax is that it is an advertisement for Mini – perhaps the new Mini Convertible which was unveiled in March at the Geneva Motor Show.

But then why the shadowy vagueness revealed in the Times article? Haven’t we already figured out this scam? What else is there to be “revealed” in the coming month? The New York Times is certainly smart enough not to be manipulated into perpetuating an advertising campaign, right?

I believe the boys over at Crispin Porter & Bogusky are far too clever to be strong-armed into admitting their devilish plot to a gullible Times reporter. After all, how much fact checking really goes into a section C, page 8 feature story about some savvy marketing geeks?

No, I don’t think we’ve seen everything yet. I think the consuming public is in for more interesting twists.

First of all, the mysterious author of “Men of Metal,” Mr. Rowland Samuels, has suddenly appeared – defending his book against claims of hoax and advertising fraud – on his website, Don’t be surprised if you start seeing the fictitious Mr. Samuel on the late night talk show circuit pitching his story and his book (with, I’m sure, a few good mentions of Mini Cooper and BMW).

Second of all, in all of the hubbub about Mini Cooper advertising, the ignored element within this “Men of Metal” drama, is the Men of Metal themselves – the robots.

The Transformer fans are the only ones that have picked up on it and have continued to toss around their theories.

Transformers – Hasbro’s popular action figure toys – have had a huge following since they were first introduced in 1984. They are now surging again in popularity thanks to cartoons, comic books and most recently the release of a video game version for PlayStation by Atari. But the biggest buzz around Transformer boards is the rumor of a full length, live action Transformer movie, which is reportedly in production at New Line Cinema and due for release in early 2006.

This is what the Transformer fans think “Men of Metal” is all about. I gigantic advertisement for the Transformer movie and Transformer craze.

It makes sense actually. The autonomous robots seen in Dr. Colin Mayhew’s schematic drawings and test videos, resemble the Transformer design, right down to the spinning wheels on the shoulders.

Of course, Mini Cooper would have to have a staring roll in any such film, tying in the concept of robots built from Mini Cooper parts.

BMW also isn’t a stranger to marketing their vehicles in movies. In 1995, BMW and MGM Studios became marketing partners for BMW’s Z3 Roadster and MGM’s James Bond movie “GoldenEye.”

BMW is also currently running an HDTV series called “The Hire.” A series of short action films – directed and produced by big names like Tony Scott and John Woo, and staring big names like Gary Oldman and James Brown – can be downloaded and viewed for free at – all for the sole purpose of advertising.

So the car industry and the movie industry work well together, both at entertaining us and selling us products. It would make sense that Mini Cooper could capitalize on the Transformer craze by positioning itself squarely in the center of such a concept – maybe setting the stage and preliminary storyline with it’s “Men of Metal” piece.

This is all speculation of course. What Mini Cooper and Crispin Porter & Bogusky are really up to is still locked up in a storyboard conference room in South Florida. But this much is certain – in the new world of advertising, not everything is what it seems.

Wow. How amazing is that?

  • John

    I hope it's ALL true!

    The ground-breaking “The Hire” series from BMW created a significant stir in at least two industries. Any of the threads speculated for this new one would take those concepts to a whole new level.

    Fun. Interesting. Creative. If any of this speculation is true, it will also be … effective!

  • I just hope it actually ties into a MINI-Branded advertisment.

    But I still hate this kind of advertisment. It reminds me to much of the Beta-7 campaign for some Sega Football game, or the Sony/Ericson 'Fake Tourist' campaign.

  • R

    As Patsy or Edina might say, “I think it is BRILIANT!”…R

  • And now, seen on NAM, we have this Rowland Samuels web site!

  • scott

    it reminds me of the honda 'cog' ad with the car parts being set up to trigger each other like a line of dominos.

    great ceativity. It makes me feel good about ad agencies being so damn creative and not following 'tranditional' methods.

  • I loved BMWFilm's The Hire movies so much I bought the DVD of them. I wish BMW made more, and it would be spectacular if Mini did their own! (You should link to to view the movies)

  • R

    I know this has nothing to do with the subject but the ref to the BMW/Film's made me think of this.

    Get rid of tired Pierce and put Clive Owen or Jason Statham (The Transporter) in as the new Bond. they seem more Connery-ish and less..wimpy as the last two were…R

  • R

    Somewhere I saw the movie that was made, anybody remember where it is?…R

  • R

    Found it…R

  • Vanwall

    This is highly reminiscent of the much more complicated “A.I” science fiction mystery game which was played out on the WWW a coupla summers ago just B4 the movie of the same name was released. Known as “The Beast”, by it's creators, it had literally hundreds of real-seeming web-sites and thousands of web-pages of esoteric clues, which spawned an entire WWW based mystery solving group, the “Cloudmakers”, which in turn had thousands of players using collective thinking to solve the game. At one point the creators were only a step ahead, literally only hours, before the clues were solved. Run by a select group of Microsoft game designers, it was much more imbedded in the Web, but the same attempt to create a fictional world as this one was the intention – make it look real, and put up websites that re-inforce the illusion. Altho not an intentional puzzle with deliberate problem solving like the “A.I.” game, it's still riffing off the idea of a mystery to be solved by the intrepid surfer. Thank God it doesn't require Nazi Enigma Machine settings, or knowledge of obscure facts to navigate!

         Rob in Dago

  • KLF23

    Here is link to the excerpt from the book.

  • Karl

    Eh, the Transformers speculation is probably half right. The more predominant theory is that the Mini will be produced as an Alternators, Hasbro's current line of officially licensed cars. Naturally, it would be logical for Hasbro to include some type of movie use clause with the licensing deal {at least I would do so}. So, hence why I say half right. Also, the main robot on that page is yellow and oddly enough, has horns. Definate Bumblebee. VW has backed out, so Mini seems like a logical second choice.

  • Kahlil

    I'm only mad because I felt the book was a good read and now the “author” doesn't even exist….clever advertising though…..wouldn't a model reminiscent of Gundam be a cool product to market….Guys (MINI people) think about!

  • Nathan

    I think that is extremely creative and smart advertising. I mean imagine how many people looked into it after reading the book which is quite eyecatching and interesting after the first page or so. I give the guys at MINI and transformers much credit.

  • Crystal Lampert

    Where can I buy the Men of Metal book? And how much is it?

  • Dean

    I am impressed with the MINI as a car and alerted by the British researchers that made this “Transformer” robot.

    You need to go to the website and see it in action for yourself. Bear in mind the robot you’ll be seeing is from 2002. Three years later the research has turned toward making the robot wireless so that it only needs to carry the bare essentials on board for operations like walking, balance and operating the hardware. With wireless access to a plethora of databases it has capabilities that are only limited by the imagination of the end user of the robot. If you’re not familiar with face recognition software, emotion detection software and all of the various types of databases that are available, then you need to search the web and increase your own knowledge base. Sony had very human appearing and behaving robots on the Atlantic City Boardwalk in 2003 that most people didn’t know that they were actually robots and not people. Their body mechanics were so fluid and the skin very realistic in appearance, so that unless you touched them you didn’t know they were not human without paying close attention. If you don’t see Shades of Terminator coming to a neighborhood near you then it is time to re-evaluate the data and open your eyes.

  • Dean – the above article is all about how the site you just referenced in your comment is a marketing ploy by MINI.