Back in the 1980s when I was doing Asian Auto, I used to write about innovative ad campaigns done by car companies. It was interesting to learn about how an ad was done and to give readers the story ?behind the scenes?. Well, it?s been a long time since I?ve done such stories so when I discovered that BMW Malaysia had come up with a unique direct-mail campaign for the new Mini, I decided that a story about it just had to be written.
Actually, I had been included in the direct mail campaign although I was not really a ?target customer?; it was decided that motoring journalists should also receive the materials so they would also become intrigued by the event. Of course, because of the concept of the campaign, there was puzzlement initially as to what it was all about!
The campaign started off with the distribution of a package supposedly posted to some 1,000 people in Malaysia. It was a large brown envelope with stamps from Murmansk, Russia, and looked pretty authentic. When I opened it, there was a scrap of torn paper on which someone who signed himself as ?DH? said that he had discovered something strange about a cargo consignment at Murmansk airport. He even sent some large black and white pictures which he must have risked life and limb to take. There was also a cargo tag with the mysterious code ?MLYSBG23?.
The thought that I was the lucky recipient of some scoop pictures vapourised when I saw an internet address which he urged me to visit. When I went there, I found that this DH chap (DH apparently stood for ?Dmitri Hmiroslav?) had set up a website and was publishing his ?journal? of activities as he tried to find out what the mysterious cargo was. And in a corner of the first page was the important statement that it was really a marketing campaign (and therefore not to be taken seriously).
?MINI distributors in various countries came up with different ideas for their pre-launch campaigns and this was what we came up with. We wanted something different, unique and memorable ? much like the Mini,? said Farid Sulaiman, Mini Manager at BMW Malaysia.
Encik Farid said that the campaign was meant to span four weeks and employed all the modern means of communication ? e-mail, fax and SMS ? besides good old-fashioned ?snail mail? (although the delivery was actually by a courier).
?Understanding how Malaysians tend to rely a lot on SMS for information, we sent out messages to those who got the packages to tell them not to believe what this ?DH? was sending them? which of course made people even more curious!? he said with a laugh. And as expected too, many of those recipients told their friends about this mysterious ?event? so it was another great demonstration of ?viral marketing? at work.
?Without any advertising in public, the website got around 12,000 visits within three weeks,? Encik Farid revealed.
?DH? sent two more packages, each providing clues to what the mysterious cargo was. He also sent some other items that ?accidentally? got put into the envelope ? like a used cigarette box of some Russian brand. And in the third package was something very amazing: the flight plan that ?DH? managed to steal and send across showed that the plane?s final destination was Subang in Malaysia!
?DH? himself was on board the plane, according to his messages, and it was pretty puzzling how he could still ?mail? the stuff while flying across Central Asia with a stopover in Myanmar. He seemed more like a curious cat than a spy (which he wasn?t) and it was apparent that he would never be any threat to James Bond since he sent a picture of a Boeing 747 and said that it was the Hercules that he described! He did know the background of the Hercules, though, and that added to his concern that the mysterious cargo was something ?out of the ordinary?.
?Yes, we realised that mistake about the planes but it was too late to do anything about it,? said Encik Farid, and he mentioned that an early idea was to launch the new car inside an Antonov transporter which is the largest cargo plane in the world. Only problem was it would cost an enormous sum of money to rent one!
As for Murmansk, he said that it was meant to be a decoy so that people wouldn?t be able to guess it was about the Mini so quickly. ?If we had used UK as a starting point, many people could have guessed what it was and besides, few people get mail from Murmansk!? he said.
BMW Malaysia certainly deserves credit for coming up with this clever campaign but Encik Farid said that it?s necessary these days because the market is so competitive. ?We need to stand out from the crowd so an unconventional approach was needed and I?m happy it was pretty successful.?
Pity we never did get to meet Dmitri and commend him for his brave efforts? but who knows, he may like Malaysia so much that he?won’t go home to Murmansk?and sell Minis for a living here!