FORBES | Q&A With Tom Noble On Mini’s #DefyLabels Campaign Touchdown

Mini could not have known just how timely its message would be when the brand inked its deal for a media buy during Super Bowl 50 back in November. And yes, it was only two months before the Big Game that the company finalized its plans to advertise…without having created the ad yet.

The brand’s “#DefyLabels” campaign came together so quickly because the concept had almost immediate buy-in. Head of Brand Communications for Mini, Tom Noble, spoke to me about how quickly the campaign came to life thanks to an idea that proved easy to sell internally and to the influencers he and his team hoped to recruit for the spot.

In the 30-second ad, celebrities like Serena Williams, T-Pain and Harvey Keitel stand in front of a new Mini saying things like, “This is a chick car,” “This car ain’t hip-hop,” and ultimately, “This car doesn’t care what you call it,” (the G-rated version of the original concept, “This car doesn’t give a damn what you call it.”)

The concept proved an undeniable fit into this year’s overall Super Bowl messaging – both the planned and the unplanned.

Aaron Kwittken: What was the inspiration for the new ad?

Tom Noble: We had agreed to the media back in October and didn’t have a concept. From a brand perspective we know that we were entering with a new, bigger vehicle and there were a lot of perceptions out there. To get people to contemplate a new sized Mini, they would need to overcome some ideas about the brand. We’re tagged with a lot of labels and a lot of people are tagged with a lot of labels in society too.

AK: Is this the first time that MINI has ever ventured into a social category as it relates to branding and advertising?

TN: When Mini first launched there were certainly some similar points they wanted to get across like, “You don’t have to be big to be premium.” That’s how the brand was launched. It may not have been as overt as the time, but being different, being smart, choosing your own path…that is all consistent with this launch and the brand. We’ve tried to put purpose back into being different, not just being different for different’s sake.

AK: How hard is it to put together a Super Bowl ad, and how long does it take?

TN: The magic of pulling this ad together was making sure we had the right people quickly – it had to work in short hand because from concept to production, we pulled this together in about two months. The concept was approved mid- to end of November and we didn’t get final sign off on it until the first or second week of December when we got the final talent lists. Then we shot it in January.

AK: How did you manage to pull it all together so quickly?

TN: Not having a lot of time to mess with something can be a good thing! Normally if you have to find celebrity talent quickly, you pay a premium for that and there are long negotiations. But everyone looked at this concept and immediately connected to it.

AK: So timing wasn’t the biggest challenge then?

TN: The big arguments we had with the ad agency [BSSP] were that if it came out of the celebrities’ mouths and it looked like we paid them to say it – we’d be in trouble. Serena made herself available because she was passionate about the idea and the brand. You could feel that these people were into it and behind it. It was a really inspiring thing to be part of.

 AK: Are there any other components to this ad campaign besides the big 30-second spot?

TN: Defy labels is an idea. We’ve got our 30-second spot, then we have long form videos of people talking about their labels and their relationships to Mini. This really gave us the ability to talk about the car and the brand and how it overcomes labels, as do these celebrities. The long-form videos were unscripted. It was literally me in a room with these guys asking questions like, “Have you ever been labeled?” They were unscripted and unrehearsed and for the most part, unfiltered. Then on the web page we have content we’ve developed for retargeting – Mini designers and engineers talking about aspects of the car.

AK: There have been tons of conversations about labels since the Super Bowl. After the game there’s been frenzy around Beyoncé’s quest to redefine and reclaim what many might consider racial labels. Did you have any idea this concept would be so timely?

TN: It turned out to be even more relevant than we thought it might be – it’s touching a nerve in society today. Peyton Manning was facing labels about being too old, Cam Newton had a litany of labels he was dealing with. Everywhere we look in society right now, labels are being thrown around that may or may not be legitimate.

AK: It’s still early but how is the ad performing?

TN: Everyone in Munich (at parent company, BMW) is thrilled with the results so far. The spot has more than 18 million views on YouTube and was the second most positively referenced ad from the Super Bowl. Eighty-two percent of visitors to the website since Sunday have been new visitors, and the ad’s rotation only just started.

As the Super Bowl seems to prove year after year, the winning formula for that multi-million dollar slot is relevance, timeliness and a willingness to take risks.

That and puppy-monkey-babies, of course.