'You don’t necessarily need humor to cut through in the Super Bowl' - Mini’s head of marketing Tom Noble talks the BMW brand’s star-studded game day ad

After a five-year hiatus, BMW’s Mini is back in the Super Bowl this year with a 30-second ad that it hopes will give viewers a chance to reconsider what the brand stands for.

The spot, which has yet to be released, will feature a hodgepodge of celebrities including retired American soccer player Abby Wambach, rapper T-Pain and former pro skateboader Tony Hawk.

Created by California-based Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners (BSSP) and called ‘Defy Labels,’ the ad marks a departure from the brand’s 2011 spot ‘Cram It In The Boot,’ which spoofed game shows. This year, Mini is using its Super Bowl spot to reposition the brand as one that has both embraced and overcome its various labels while staying true to what it stands for.

Ahead of the ad’s release, Mini has rolled out a number of teaser videos (see Abby Wambach’s above) that feature the celebrities as they discuss how they have overcome labels throughout their careers.

The Drum spoke with Tom Noble, Mini’s head of marketing, to find out why the brand decided to use the Super Bowl as a platform to reposition itself and why he thinks an emotional approach is a good fit for this year’s message.

How would you describe Mini’s Super Bowl strategy this year?

Our Super Bowl strategy is all about defying labels that the brand is labored with and doing it through people who have defied labels throughout their career and have an authentic relationship with the Mini brand.

Why did you decide to include so many celebrities in the ad?

There were kind of two filters we looked at from a celebrity point of view. One was, have they overcome labels throughout the courses of their career so they would naturally be able to talk about the subject, not only in a scripted ad but in an unscripted interview that would be authentic? The other is that they had to have either owned, driven, or had some relationship with a Mini. Obviously with the mix of celebs and athletes and other people that we’ve chosen, some were longtime Mini owners, some were people that had driven a Mini, and some had friends who’d driven Minis so had interacted with them. So that’s how we ended up with those folks.

Why do you think your ad will stand out from others?

Let’s just say we take a lot of the issues we have from a brand perspective and deal with them straight-on. We don’t pull any punches around what people call us and I think it’s a very sort of authentic view of the celebrities and the issues that we deal with from a brand point of view.

Why did you decide to go the emotional route instead of using humor?

I think there’s kind of two schools of thought usually from a Super Bowl perspective. One is funny, a laugh at a party. The other is, if you kind of look at what Chrysler has done with Eminem, more of a heartfelt and emotional message. If you’re emotional enough and strong enough in what you can say, you don’t necessarily need humor to cut through in the Super Bowl but you do need to have a relevant message that’s is going to make people go, "wow, that was a brave thing to say." From a brand perspective, as the products get more sophisticated and we grow up a bit in design and price points and size, from a communication point of view we also need to grow up a bit. So just straight-out humor is probably not the thing for us as a brand at the moment.

What does the Super Bowl provide for an advertiser like Mini, besides a massive audience?

It’s a massive audience but it’s also a massive audience looking to consumer advertising. People actually stay to watch the ads. You can buy media and spend money outside of the Super Bowl, but you’re not necessarily sure that people are going to watch what you do. Here you kind of know, so that’s important. The other is if you’re going to make a statement or reposition the brand to some level or communicate about the brand in a different way, if you want to get to a lot of people in a hurry, it does give you that critical mass and it also says you’re willing to play at a Super Bowl level and that you’re confident enough in your brand and confident enough in your message to be able to compete with anybody that’s out there.

At a time when people are increasingly cynical about advertising, particularly online, do you think people still get excited about Super Bowl ads the way they have in years past?

I think people are cynical about bad advertising. People are cynical about stuff that isn’t authentic or isn’t entertaining or doesn’t ring true and is just intrusive. I think if you’ve got a message that is authentic and is relevant to your brand and is presented and communicated in an interesting and entertaining way, I think people would be glad to watch good advertising. I think what you get in the Super Bowl is everybody should be swinging for the fences so you see advertisers take risks that maybe they wouldn’t normally do outside of the Super Bowl. So I think you get the best from an advertising point of view on that day.

Why did you feel like the Super Bowl was a good place to start for Mini’s repositioning?

I guess one thing is, from a Mini perspective, there’s still a lack of awareness or top-of-mind awareness for Mini in the country. If you drive a Mini, you love the brand, you get it, but we’re still a small brand in the scheme of things. People aren’t looking for a Mini message. So you kind of have to work a lot harder then to get across to a mass number of people. The Super Bowl is really the one opportunity where people are looking for messages from brands and we get a lot of people in one fell swoop that we wouldn’t get or would be very hard to get without a program of that nature where people are interested in looking at messages from companies.