The Kerri Martin Effect?

Back in March 2005, MotoringFile reported on the departure of Kerri Martin from MINIUSA to become director of marketing at VW. A couple recent developments caught our eye as projects Ms. Martin may have influenced, as they tend to be in line with what we would have expected from MINI.

MINIUSA had a reputation for cultivating alternative media in ways that was able to break through the clutter. Unfortunately, MINIUSA was left in the lurch when its ad agency departed for VW (notably only months after Ms. Martin arrived at VW). While MINIUSA was forced to search for a new agency and try to decide what adjustments to make to the positioning of MINI in the media, VW was already a step or two ahead.

Podcast

In January at the North American International Auto Show, VW of America released a series of podcasts on their own site: vwpodcast.com While the podcast format may be familiar to White Roof Radio listeners, the fact that a major automobile manufacturer like VWoA undertook such a project demonstrates their openness to experiment with alternative distribution methods.

ProjectFast

ProjectFast was launched on the internet prior to the recent rash of new commercials for the new GTI. Initially, the internet site contained a survey that enabled enthusiasts to tell VW a little about their perceptions of what FAST was, and opt in to a mailing list for future website developments. Through the website visitors learned what their FAST looked like (a modern day mischievous black ball in the shape of a rabbit – a historical tie-in to VW’s original Golf). To coincide with the first TV commercials, the ProjectFast site changed and an online configurator for the new GTI was launched.

ProjectFast appears to mark a couple of key developments for VW. It’s the first new advertising campaign since Crispin Porter + Bogusky took over the VW ad account. ProjectFast also demonstrates a major advancement on VW’s part to integrate its internet message with its television presence.

Taken together, both the Podcast and ProjectFast show some pretty clear intensions on the part of Volkswagen to be more savvy with they’re use of media. While it is hard to say how much of this is the result of Kerri Martin’s efforts, it is clear that she has had a substantial role to play.

MINIUSA and Butler Shine have their work cut out for them as they plan where to take the MINI brand with the next MINI. For now, we’re left to ponder when they’ll make their move and if they’ll have the goods when they do.

  • George

    Kerri is HOT! I read a lot about her early days at MINI and how she poured so many new ideas onto the launch tactics of our baby. I’m certain she’s a huge part of the reason why MINI is such a big success in the US. What a loss for MINI! :°(

  • Not to worry, as long as VW’s commercials continue to feature white cars as they have recently, they are shooting themselves in the foot. It makes me think of a shopping bag with wheels. :p

  • Nick

    MINI is closing fast: Ruby Tuesday’s MINI Burgers. Showcases several CR/W MINI–with CR dash. Are there other colors? Neat commercial.

  • Roco Rocket

    I saw that commercial it had an Italian Job feel with the multiple MINI’s and I couldn’t help but notice near the end that one of the drivers racing suites looked uncomfortably tight. But, it’s a great use of the MINI. I also wondered if MINI USA was aware of it? I’ll have to go back and look for the disclaimer.

  • Derek

    IN the end, tho, the product will speak after all of the intro by the hype.

    Can a MINI still be a MINI when a VW becomes a VW?

    Time will tell.

  • DCJeff

    Don’t go overboard giving VW credit for pioneering new media. I was browsing the iTunes Music Store the other day and found out that BMW actually has a lot of “vodcasts” on line. They actually have a home for them at vodcast.bmw.com. It would be nice for MINI to follow BMW’s lead on this.

  • As clever as CP+B is, the product they had to work with in the MINI made their ads so great. I wondered if they were behind the new “Fast” VW ads because they are a bit quirky, but they are also pretty stupid. With VW cars, they don’t have as much character to work with.

    MINI’s new firm needs to play up the racing side of MINI, which I suspect they already are.

  • Bud Dill

    I am somewhat familiar with the work of CP+B since one of their accounts hypes the products of the company I work for. Until VW releases a reasonable facsimile of their Corrado concept car they really don’t have much of a shooting (brake) chance of putting a crimp in MINIS phenomenal style and heritage.The Chrysler and Audi clone-a-bes on the drawing boards and parked in the wings are praisworthy since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That is not so suggest that MINI is endowed with competitive immunity. It will have to keep its image fresh and enticing as ever to keep ahead on the commercial grid.

  • Micah

    Wow, the constant VW bashing never ceases to amaze me.

    IMO the new GTI and its corresponding ad campaign are quite good. This doesn’t place Minis in a less hallowed light, or mean that our beloved Minis are any less good.

    I welcome a world with more Minis and GTIs driven by enthusiasts who pay attention (because their cars are fun!) and know how to drive, as opposed to the current situation on the road dominated by oversized SUVs and trucks driven by distracted fools.

    Fortunately, I think the tides are shifting…

  • Micah

    Second sentence/second paragraph above should read “This doesn’t place Minis in a less hallowed light…”

  • R50

    Sorry – I don’t “get” the evil rabbit deal. I never understand what it is saying and don’t care a whole lot.

  • Woodster

    I just visited the projectfast website. Ech! The site is in beta 3 stage (so it says) but if that’s where they are going with the product image then it appears that CP+B are a little confused on how to make the transition to VW. The joy ride feature of the site is completely worthless and I felt rather embarassed to have spent time configuring my “fast”. I half expected Mike Meyers character “Deter” to jump up and say “now we dance”.

    Just my 2 cents….

  • Radiationman

    While I don’t have an opinion one way or the other on the GTI, I think the new VW campaign is pretty dumb…

    I don’t know, maybe I’m not in the target demographic for the campaign and that’s why it doesn’t resonate with me…

    Then again, who’s in the target demographic for a MINI campaign?

  • phydeaux

    I’d have to say the overkill of the VW commercials is a bit much. Eye catching the first couple of times, but it’s getting a bit much now. It makes me think of the advertising one sees for a movie that’s really not that good vs. advertising for a truly good movie. Maybe with the Olympics being televised, one is more likely to see the ad series and multiple commercials.

    I mentioned that I thought the new VW commercials were the first products of the new VW ad agency, because of the quirky nature of the commercial. My wife asked why I would know that. Thanks, MF, you’re now enhancing my marriage! Another satisifed customer. 😉

  • I personally find most of the new GTI branding pretty good and love the movie feature on the configurator. The latter feature makes you forget about the complete lack of personalization available from the factory.

    Great article Dave!

  • duncan

    i don’t have television, but over at my mum and dad’s this weekend i saw the “myfast” commercials. a) i thought they were brilliant and very funny, some more than others, but still very clever and funny. b) my second thought was: this has to be a product of MINI’s old advertising group – which is a testament to how good they were/are. it’s sad to see such a creative and talented group move on, but at the same time new blood might be great for MINI.

  • Trick

    I still have my GTI/Speed Racer postcard from the Mk3s. I feel old.

    Nice to see VW pushing the envelope a bit. You have to figure that people will either love it or hate it. Given the price point of the new GTI puts them right in contention with the new Civic, I think this campaign will do well with the racer boys.

    It remains to be seen if that same demographic can get on up off the 20+ grand for either car.

    Of course, in the back of my mind, I’m waiting for some safety-centric, child-proofing, parental advisory organization to throw a flag about these commercials encouraging little Bobby or Barbie to go out and sidestep the clutch after getting a warning ticket.

    But you gotta admit “Honey, it’s hard to enjoy the engine sounds with all that yackin'” is hysterical.

  • Mark

    Having owned several VWs over the years, was a fan until the quality went out the window. If “Get to know your fast!” is the best that Mini’s old ad agency can come up with for VW, am very glad they left Mini. Those commercials are awful.

  • Nathaniel Salzman

    “We thought about how much fast should weigh…”

    Keep thinking.

    Though how the car sells will be the ultimate measure of VW’s advertising endeavors in the end, there are a couple of criteria by which advertising can be a little more objectively evaluated.

    1.) It has to be interesting. No matter what the message is, it has to be told in a compelling way. Make it funny. Make it emotional. Make it quiet when everybody else is loud. Make it different. Make me notice (in a good way). Make it memorable.

    2.) It should almost always be benefit-centric. The “story” the ad is telling should be about the product and its benefits. Give me a reason to care about this product – a reason to choose yours over theirs.

    3.) Lastly, all of your media choices should be moving your brand forward in an intentional direction toward specific goals such as higher awareness, more sales, bigger market share, etc. And that brand should always be striving to make a personal connection with its customers.

    So with that in mind, we can do a quick little analysis of what we’ve seen from MINI in the past and what we’re seeing from VW now.

    This new crop of VW ads, in my opinion, both hits and misses the mark. They’re interesting and at least marginally memorable. The “fast” nuclear cyborg bunny as a throw back to the original VW Rabbit is clever and VW fans should get a kick out of that. Where they fall short is on talking about benefits. “Fast” is not a benefit in and of itself, nor is it compellingly cool enough to make me care about the car. I’d rather have a little “Fast” paper weight than a GTI (and I’m not a VW-hater, BTW).

    Two VW ads that DO succeed are VW’s two safety adds for the Passat. One has the newspaper picture of a Passat stopping an in-bound model rocket. The other is take on their long standing “Drivers Wanted” tagline where the sentence of type is impacted and only the words “drivers” and “passengers” aren’t jumbled by the crash. The message is “our cars are safe” and it’s told in an interesting and memorable way.

    MINI Canada’s TV ads, such as the “Space” commercial, are a great example of using humor and creativity to talk about the features of a product. And I don’t say that because they’re MINI, but because they’re simply great ads.

    Though the ProjectFast site certainly looks cool, I think it too misses the benefit mark and I’m with Woodster in my expectation to see Dita offering to let me touch the monkey. The configurator, though well presented, does little more for me than highlight how many options the GTI lacks compared to the MINI. It’s mostly flash and little substance, though it’s great flash bang good stuff.

    I think it’s worthwhile to compare it to MINI Canada’s Dominating Winter feature to see the difference that talking about benefits makes. The MINI.ca feature does nothing but talk about the benefits of the car in winter motoring. Comparatively the VW site is very thin on why I should want the GTI other than for my very own steel über bunny. They’re trying to milk cool, and that cow has it’s limits.

    But all that said, I applaud VW for getting out there and being intentional about telling people about their cars. I’d like to go test drive the new GTI myself, but that has nothing to do with the advertising. I drove the MKIV and liked a lot of things it had to offer. What I really I want to see VW solve its quality issues and get back to its “people’s car” roots. I think those issues are much more in VW’s way than anything they’re doing in media.

    Well, that and making the Jetta look like a Corrola. I loved the previous car!

  • Trick

    Wow. I see another POTM in your future Mr. Salzman. Nicely put.

  • db
    Don’t go overboard giving VW credit for pioneering new media. I was browsing the iTunes Music Store the other day and found out that BMW actually has a lot of “vodcasts” on line. They actually have a home for them at vodcast.bmw.com. It would be nice for MINI to follow BMW’s lead on this.

    Did you also notice the Honda Commercials? Or the MBZ ‘cast? GM has tried it in the past as well but I don’t think they are still doing it. More and more large companies are finding this is a great way to advertise thier product as more and more users become comfortable with this kind of technology and realize just how cool On-Demand, or ‘Time shifting’, audio is!

    I like the commercials. I find them entertaining. Doesn’t mean I’m going to rush out to ‘find my fast’. My bulldog would just swallow that guy whole I’m sure 😉

    Great article Dave!

  • Post of the month for February 2006: Nathaniel Salzman / Keep thinking.

    Nathaniel, your congratulatory pat on the back email will be in your inbox this evening.

  • Nathaniel Salzman

    LOL! – thanks everybody. Here’s my acceptance speech:

    “I’d like to thank Gabe and everyone at MotoringFile for making this possible – everyone at MINI and BMW, my parents, my agent, Luke Sullivan, Bill Bernbach, God of course, Steve Jobs and everybody over at Apple (single tear, starting to cry), Liz and the gang down at Baron MINI in KC, (music starts to cue up) I LOVE YOU ALL.”

    And while the music blares, I grab the “Dominate Winter” woman and kiss her on stage.

    “We’ll be back after this commercial announcement from VW…”

  • Micah

    Nathaniel, I assume you have president’s day off from work… 😉

    I agree that was an excellent piece of discourse.

  • Nathaniel Salzman

    President’s Day off? I wish!

    Nah, I’m just quick on the keys. I work in advertising/design/marketing/branding and all that jazz so this is a subject matter I know very well. Anyone looking for some good advertising criticism should check out Seth Stevenson’s Ad Report Card articles over on Slate. I wish he wrote a little more frequently, but his critiques are usually spot-on and are often heard on NPR’s All Things Considered and Morning Edition.

  • Davis W. Frank

    As much as I like the FAST ads (and they are absolutely hilarious), it wasn’t until I read this post did I find out that the FAST is an evil bunny (“It is the rabbit”).

    Is the cop’s a rabbit, too? If so, does it mean he drives a GTI and his FAST just gets to come along when he’s out chasing speeders?

    Or is the cop’s FAST a different animal? And does it mean that someone in the MINI community is going to make a bulldog FAST to sit on our dashboards/arm rests? Extra points if it says, in a British accent, “MY FAST LIKES HAVING A CLEAR VIEW OF THE SPEEDOMETER!” or, “MY FAST THINKS MY COMMUTE IS AN AUTOCROSS!

  • NSS

    Isn’t it just a redo of Fahrvergnugen, or however you spell it? The intangible inside that makes the car special? And if they are trying to make the GTI so different, isn’t it weird to use a rabbit as the icon, given that was the predecessor to the Golf? Just one guy’s opinion, but it doesnt seem so brilliant to me.

  • As much as I like the FAST ads (and they are absolutely hilarious), it wasn’t until I read this post did I find out that the FAST is an evil bunny (”It is the rabbit”).

    Classic Coke —>

    New Coke —>

  • Vanwall

    High Concept Drivel. Actually, I find the Fast commercials to be a bore, and I don’t need a devil bunny to go fast – how wimpy is that? It comes across like a viagra for your limp macho, and it turns the babes off, as well. That’s real bright – Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Over.

                 BCNU,
               Rob in Dago
    
  • JD

    I have always liked VW’s ads and enjoy the new FAST stuff also. VW always had the best music in their ads (Nick Drake, Kings of Leon, and a hundred other bands that non-music geeks may not know about). I also thing that the configurator for the GTI is cool and the movie is great. believe it or not, there may actually be room for both brands.

  • Bud Dill

    Let the rabbit out of the hat. May we announce the winner of this year’s “Spinoccio Award”? The envelope please … and the winner is Mrs. MINIver.

  • goonery

    Don’t know if you get the VW Jetta in the USA, its a Golf with a trunk, but our Jeremy Clarkson sums up all that is bad about this car and what the ad agency has to work with generally on the VW brand in this article. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear no matter how hard you try or talented you are.:-)

    http://driving.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,12529-2045424,00.htm

  • goonery

    oops , there should be an ‘l’ on the html bit http://driving.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,12529-2045424,00.html

  • CW
    They’re trying to milk cool, and that cow has its limits.

    Thats’ a really brilliant line. I’d expect to see something of that calibre on Autoextremist or Top Gear. Good work (though I would’ve substituted “sore udders”). 😉

    I wonder how many people will really get the cyber-rabbit code embedded there? I’m old enough to recall when Rabbits were nearly as common as today’s Civics, but to anyone under 30 it’s a bit of a crapshoot for brand recognition. Not dissimilar to the MC40 MCS; other than a few rally’n’tweed fetishists the significance was lost on many potential customers and no small number languished on dealer lots.

  • It might have been a good thing MINI never had enough money to let Crispin run wild. The new “unpimp your ride” commercials.

    (right click, save as)

    Crate

    Wrecking Ball

    Catapult

    Good idea. Poor execution.

  • O(=^=)O Capn

    Did anyone else notice that that tail doesn’t change the coefficient of drag? isn’t that something that would effect the “fast” of the car?

    Btw, I think that the “golf” name is the wrong direction. Why name it after a little white ball that doesn’t go in the direction that I want? Whereas a rabbit is small, nimble and fast!

  • Edge

    What I find odd… very usual anyway… is that the automatic has a 0.2s faster 0-60 time than the manual. Interesting, and a reversal from most specs for cars that offer both!

  • mike

    i just saw the full commercial for the first time on tv and i have to say that i think that it seems that they are trying way too hard.

  • mike

    oh, yeah, i also still think that the new GTI looks like a honda.

  • JD

    Did VW take that rabbit from Pokemon?

  • What I find odd… very usual anyway… is that the automatic has a 0.2s faster 0-60 time than the manual. Interesting, and a reversal from most specs for cars that offer both!

    That’s because it’s not a typical automatic slush-box. It’s DSG – a computer controlled manual with dual clutches.