MINI may not build the most reliable cars (at least according to our friends at TrueDelta.com, where the Cooper has roughly double the repair frequency of a Honda Civic), but since the brand’s rebirth under BMW’s ownership, it has been nothing less than a case study in brilliant, creative, clever marketing. Its latest foray has been into the Olympic games, where MINI has become nearly the only brand represented during track and field events – and despite a prohibition on advertising or promotion during the events.
How do they do it? MINI provides a fleet of radio-controlled three quarter-scale MINI Coopers that assist volunteers in shuttling things like javelins (each mini MINI holds two), shot puts, and discus from their landing point back to the sidelines. Though the cars have no visible MINI branding on them (they are painted in London 2012 livery), their iconic shape is a brilliant stroke of product placement on MINI’s part.
In the past, Olympic volunteers would have to hand-carry equipment from point to point, or nondescript carts were used. But with the mini MINIs, there’s a stylish, entertaining way to move the goods.
As noted in the headline, the use of the diminutive cars has not been without controversy. There is a strict prohibition on visible promotion and advertising within the Olympic venues, and when asked whether the mini MINIs fell within the rules, Timo Lumme, the IOC’s director of TV and marketing services maintained that there is no commercial reason for choosing the MINIs. Lumme noted that there is no link between BMW’s sponsorship of the games and the track and field-helping MINIs.
To be fair, it doesn’t even appear that there are MINI emblems on the small cars- and there doesn’t seem to be an issue with Nike or Adidas logos on clothing and footwear during the Olympic games.
The electric-powered mini MINIs have a surprising number of real-car features, including headlights, disc brakes, suspension, and even windshield wipers, if the reporting in the video below is accurate. The cars work four hour shifts and cover approximately 6 km each per day.
Personally, I love this. Having grown up around all kinds of cars – and living vicariously through buff books and radio controlled cars until I had wheels of my own – the radio controlled MINIs are fun to watch, helpful, and creative. Whoever built them did an amazing job of modeling; in some of the side-by-side footage in the embedded WSJ video, it’s almost impossible to tell the model from the real car.