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My favourite ad campaign of all time: ‘The Counterfeit Mini’ from 2005

When car advertising looks nothing like car advertising, it deserves to be picked as an all-time favourite ad – says BBDO China’s group creative director Mukund Olety

Greatest athlete. Greatest movie. Greatest invention. These GOAT (greatest of all time) debates will probably rage on forever. Pros, cons, math, aftermath. Everyone has a point of view. Every argument has a counter argument. So, I am glad the question is: ‘Which is your favourite ad?’ And not: ‘Which one is the greatest ever?’

As I delved into answering this seemingly simple yet tough question, I was super tempted to pick one of the more popular greats – Nike Plus, BMW Films, Budlight’s ‘Real Men of Genius’ and the like. But hey, as with all things favourite, it is less about reason.

I joined advertising in the era of Alex Bogusky. I would approach every brief with ‘What would Bogusky do?’. And why not. A lot of work from the Bogusky stable was unconventional, rebellious and had one agenda – create buzz.

One such was the ‘Counterfeit Mini’ campaign. It was car advertising that looked nothing like car advertising.

Circa 2005. Mini was an iconic brand in Europe, but was still considered to be niche in the United States. It was in the midst of a relaunch. So, how do you convey that the Mini is an iconic brand with a signature look? I am sure there were numerous ways to approach this brief, but few would be as ballsy as the Counterfeit Mini campaign.

The thinking is super logical. It’s only iconic things and brands that get ripped-off. Rolex Watches, Ray-Ban sunglasses. And yes, Mini Coopers. A fictitious organisation, the Counter Counterfeit Commission (CCC) was set up to warn people about the counterfeit Minis and give a crash course on how to spot a genuine one.

Risky ideas often get green-lit when the going is not so smooth. Mini, with its limited budgets was up against Volkswagen, which spent around $400m on advertising. Television was still the medium to reckon with. So, how could they be on TV without having the budget to be on the box? They had to play smart.

The answer was direct response TV. You could get a lot more airtime for a lot less money. But you had to have something to sell. A 10-minute DVD, providing tongue-in-cheek information about the fake Mini Coopers, was sold for $19.95. They sold a thousand of these.

The 60-second commercial was an edit from this 10-minute documentary. It led viewers to counterfeitmini.org. This was the pre-Web 3.0, pre-app era.

People had to go through the extra effort of logging in to view the full campaign. Most people would not bother with that extra step. But when a campaign manages to strike the right chords, you get that additional layer of engagement.

On the now defunct website, people could learn to spot a fake and what it took to be a genuine Mini. It was providing the same old car information in a more innovative manner. People could email their own fakes to the website and the fake cars were then rated on inventiveness.

The site also featured a link to mini4auction.com where counterfeit minis were on sale. But the auction always seemed to expire just before you could get your bid in. How convenient.

A brave idea like this needed a brave client. I am sure it would have been super easy to kill this campaign, but I am glad that enough people believed in it. It often takes just one person to kill an idea but an entire team to make it happen.

Was it worth it? Well, the campaign got featured not just in advertising blogs but also in automotive blogs. People shared. Via email. Sales went up by 44%. And the campaign went on to bag a truckload of creative awards including a Titanium Lion.

In the end, the campaign did not change the world. It just changed the way I approached advertising.

A decade and a half is a long time. Things evolve. Today a whole lot of agencies are pushing boundaries and doing some brilliant, world-changing work. Truly, an inspiring and fascinating time to be in the industry.

But it wouldn’t be wrong to say non-traditional campaigns like Counterfeit Mini were instrumental in adding the much-needed zing to advertising. Let’s call it advertizing. It’s got a nice ring to it.

Olety loves ‘advertizing’

Mukund Olety is group creative director at BBDO China and is based in Shanghai

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