MINI USA Chooses Bay Area's Butler Shine To Replace Crispin Porter

David Kiley

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MINI USA, after a three month search , chose Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners as its new ad agency, replacing Miami’s Crispin, Porter +Bogusky, which resigned the business last September in order to take on the $400 million Volkswagen account

Butler, based in Sausalito, bested New York’s Mother and Strawberry Frog. San Francisco’s Venables, Bell & Partners had been involved at one point as well, but bowed out in October.

MINI USA has undergone significant change in the last few months. It’s management changed last summer, with former MINI chief Jack Pitney taking over as marketing chief for BMW, which owns MINI. BMW marketing boss Jim McDowell took Pitney’s place at MINI.

McDowell wasn’t expecting to have to change agencies, and wasn’t keen to. But when VW called on the celebrated Crispin to take on its account, which is around twenty times the size of MINI’s, he had no choice.

A few weeks ago, Jim McDowell said, “We weren’t happy to lose Crispin, but if we had to, this is a good time to have to find a new partner—when things are going well. We have learned never to be complacent. And even though we are selling all the MINIs we can build, this process healped galvanize the direction we want to take the brand.”

Details of Butler Shine’s ideas that won the business are not yet forthcoming. But one issue MINI is known to face is worries that the brand is becoming a little to feminine. Too much a “chick’s car” as some BMW execs have said. An all new MINI Cooper debuts in 2007. Butler’s work will break some time in the Spring.

Butler, Shine is an innovative and talented agency. I have written about its work for Converse, which included getting amateur films about Converse Chuck Taylors, created and up on the Internet. These film/ads were very clever and ran on TV as well as the Net. It also does work for Sun Microsystems, JanSport, Sprite, Sterling Vineyards. Here’s what the agency says about its own philosophy. I like the no-nonsense: “To us, there are two kinds of advertising: the kind people seek to avoid, and the kind they don't. Needless to say the first type is far more common. And sure, we probably contribute to it on occasion. But we get a lot of satisfaction from striving to do the second kind.”

Butler will have a tough act to follow. Crispin did an array of non-traditional ads for MINI, including programs that were not only effective on their own, but garnered much valuable buzz as word about the creativity spread over message boards, blogs and the like. Under the theme, “Let’s Motor,” MINI did such things as putting one atop the thirstiest gas guzzler of them all, the Ford Excursion, driving the unique double-decker around cities such as New York, Boston and Chicago with a sign that said, “What are you doing for fun this weekend?” Business cards were handed out to gawkers that said, “Coming to America—” The MINI Cooper was also seated at ballparks in some cities, such as the Oakland Athletics stadium where seats were removed the make room for a Cooper. The idea was cause a stir, get the car caught on camera and position it with human qualities (Instead of being parked outside, it was in the seats with the people.)

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