"Stewardess. Salt flats. Sushi. Paratroopers. Falconer." Without any context, these six words would make no sense together. Even with context, it’s actually still kind of a thematic stretch. And yet this unconnected string of words somehow comprises the storyboard for Mini Coupe’s latest ad. But don’t blame the company for the non-PC reference to a flight attendant: The idea was dreamed up by one of its fans.
"One of the tenets of Mini is the idea of minimalism and simplicity," says John Butler, executive creative director at Sausalito-based agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners. Hence the car company borrowed the premise behind Larry Smith’s Six-Word Memoir project to tap consumers’ views on what would be the best test-drive ever.
Butler and his agency have plenty of experience helping turn crowdsourced dreams into reality. In 2004, BSSP created what is considered one of the earliest consumer generated mass-market ad campaigns. Dubbed "Brand Democracy," the project invited fans of Converse to make short films about the brand, with BSSP hosting all submissions on an online gallery.
The Mini campaign began with a social media contest asking fans to submit their best ideas for the ultimate test-drive, using a very Twitter-friendly word limit. "Car advertising usually gets divided up between dealer and brand work," Butler says. "We wanted to do both." The idea for the ad synthesized the dealership emphasis on test-drives with a crowdsourced approach to brand advertising.
The winner was chosen from 14,000 submissions on Nov. 7th by an informal group of both client-side and agency-side judges. Larry Smith himself joined the team to apply his unique expertise on six-word entries to the contest. Everyone agreed that the six words submitted by one Matthew Foster would make for an adrenaline-fueled spot. Now they had just one tiny detail left to share with the guy.
Rather than just farm out his words for animation treatment, though, the company flew the Foster, graphic designer from Portland, Oregon, to L.A. to participate in the realization of his vision, and take that test-drive himself (though a professional stunt driver does the actual driving in the spot).
The self-referential ad begins with a swerving test-drive in progress and Foster at the wheel. While a voice-over explains that we are seeing the end result of a contest, soon a flight attendant (we’ll use the less-offensive term for reporting purposes) materializes in the passenger seat. No sooner does she thank Matthew for "flying Mini airlines" than a 20-foot ramp appears in the middle of the street. To the cheers of an instantly formed crowd, the coupe launches into the air before landing in—you guessed it—the famous salt flats of Utah. Before the end of the clip, Matthew and his coupe also crash into a sushi bar, weave through a series of grounded paratroopers as though they were pylon cones, and encounter a Swedish schlock rock band called Falconer. Mission accomplished.
Foster happens to look very natural and relaxed in front of a camera. When asked whether BSSP would have still asked the contest winner to participate if he turned out to be awkward and fidgety, Butler says, "Yeah—we just got really lucky."