- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mini Cooper USA is bypassing traditional television advertising and is showing its new “Hammer and Coop” commercials on the Internet instead.

The six-part ad campaign, a cheeky version of the 1980s TV show “Knight Rider,” showcases the 2007 Mini Cooper in a mock television series by chronicling the exploits of a talking Mini named Coop and its macho driver, Hammer.

The commercials also are being shown as trailers at select movie theaters.

Kelly O’Keefe, executive education director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Adcenter, said the technique will serve Mini Cooper well because its target audience is “younger, quirkier and more Internet-savvy” than other car buyers.

“It’s a very clever idea,” he said. “It certainly seems consistent with the [creativity] of that brand.”

The first two episodes, which the company calls “webisodes,” debuted last week to coincide with the release of the 2007 Mini. The rest of the episodes will be released in the next few weeks.

“We wanted to do [the ad campaign] in a way that certainly was more unconventional, more befitting of the Mini brand,” Mini Cooper USA spokesman Andrew Cutler said. “And when you deliver a webisode that’s delivered to someone’s desktop, you have that one-on-one relationship with them.”

The project was directed by Todd Phillips, who directed the 2006 film “School for Scoundrels,” starring Billy Bob Thornton, and 2004’s “Starksy & Hutch,” based on the 1970s TV show, starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.

The series can be viewed on several Web sites, including youtube.com and hammerandcoop.com.

“It harkens back to the ‘70s and ‘80s, the ‘Starsky and Hutch’ and ‘Knight Rider’-type themes where everybody who’s watching these shows said, ‘Man, I’ve got to have that car,’ ” Mr. Cutler said.

Mr. Cutler wouldn’t say how much the company spent on the “Hammer and Coop” campaign.

No matter what it cost, circumventing television will save Mini Cooper millions of advertising dollars, said Gary Arlen, president of Arlen Communications Inc. in Bethesda.

“Is this a good idea? Absolutely,” Mr. Arlen said. “And with interactive media, if the site requires any kind of registration or login, they can monitor how well people are paying attention to the ad.”

The ad campaign, produced by Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners of Sausalito, Calif., uses other nontraditional advertising tactics, including fake covers for the March issues of Rolling Stone and Premiere magazines.

Mini Cooper isn’t the first automaker to release Web-only ads. BMW, which owns the British marque, produced a similar multipart series called “Art of the Heist” in 2005. The series included an online sleuth game that generated some talk.

With the increasing popularity of digital recorders such as Tivo, “Hammer and Coop” won’t be the last automobile ad campaign to forsake TV, Mr. O’Keefe said.

“We definitely will see more of this,” he said. “It’s not to say that television [advertising] is dead by any means. But 30-second television spots are not delivering the performance they did years ago.”

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