Love dogs? Car brand Mini sure does, as its canine-themed campaign has been revealed as the most effective cinema ad of the month after driving a strong emotional reaction and measurably increasing interest in its wider car range.

Created by Brooklyn Brothers in partnership with Dogs Trust, the 30-second ad – which ran against showings of Paw Patrol: The Movie at the cinema last month – claims ‘dogs love Mini’ and ‘Mini loves dogs’, as the furry four-legged friends of various breeds are shown running around and interacting with a showroom of the brand’s cars. The campaign also included digital and radio activity.

Using Marketplace data, Kantar’s ‘The Works’ study found the creative scored in the top 2% of all ads in the UK for expressiveness, or the degree to which it evokes intuitive emotional reactions on people’s faces as they watch the ad.

And although the ad has room for improvement, it also scored in the top 25% for both viewer enjoyment and ad distinctiveness.

“Kantar data shows the most effective advertising is tailored to the context in which it will be experienced. Ensuring the content works optimally for people’s mindset in each context is a key part of receptivity,” explains Kantar’s UK head of creative excellence, Lynne Deason.

“Cinema goers are a captive audience waiting to be entertained, and this is what the ad for Mini delivers. It’s highly enjoyed and facial coding shows it evokes a lot of emotion on people’s faces, which is key to earning attention and creating memories.”

The UK box office was unsurprisingly devastated in 2020 as the pandemic forced cinemas to shut, decimating total revenues for the year by 76% – down to £296.7m from £1.25bn, according to the UK Cinema Association. Admissions for the same year were down 75% to 43.9 million, leading to an 80% decline in cinema adspend over the year to just £45.7m.

But with lockdown restrictions having eased, cinemas have reopened and consumers are venturing back. Mini’s general manager for marketing and product communications, Colette Healey, says the reopening of cinema after such a lengthy hiatus is “exactly” what drew the brand in, despite having only “flirted” with cinema in the past.  Advertisers flood back to cinema as latest Bond film breaks records

Noting that the Dogs Trust campaign is only a “sub layer” of Mini’s communications activity, with the brand’s hero campaign currently its TV ad for its electric vehicle, Healey explains: “We were looking for any creative or slightly different angles that we could take with this [campaign] to put it in front of different audiences.”

Working with media agency Wavemaker, the brand therefore spotted an opportunity with Paw Patrol to reach young families and dog lovers.

“It was a really nice, soft way of putting something in front of them that was entertaining and where you’ve got enough time to tell a story,” she says.

“As well as doing something for the dogs angle, this was a toe in the water to see how effective the cinema activation would be.”

The “ethos” behind the work is twofold, Healey adds: promoting the brand’s dog friendliness, but also highlighting the bigger cars Mini has in its range. At the moment, the brand is synonymous with the three door hatchback.

The success of all Mini campaigns is tracked against inquiries, but in order to accurately measure the traffic driven to the brand’s website by this campaign specifically, Healey and her team created a “dogs hub”. All digital and media activity in the campaign pointed consumers to this webpage.

“That means we’ve been able to very specifically see who is landing there and what they’ve gone on to do,” Healey explains. By week two of the campaign going live, it was “really clear” there was a spike both in people landing on this page, but also in interest in the brand’s larger Clubman model, which was highlighted in the ad.

“So within two weeks we were seeing the impact of the roll out through the dogs hub, and then people going off to explore the cars in greater detail as well.”

Healey says the success of the ad so far has seen it grow “four legs and a tail”, such that it is now the brand’s secondary campaign.

Areas of success and areas to improve

Produced in association with Marketing Week and the Advertising Association’s Trust Working Group, The Works study asked 750 consumers what they think of five of September’s top cinema ads – 150 consumers per advert.

The research reviewed the critical factors that have been proven to determine whether an ad will be effective in the short term and if it will contribute to a brand’s success in the longer term.

People might think this ad was an “easy win” for Mini, as Britain is a nation of dog lovers, Deason says. But data from Kantar’s Link database shows that isn’t true.

“Ads including animals aren’t necessarily more impactful. They are as equally likely to perform well or less effectively as all other ads,” she confirms.

Instead, there are three “secrets of success” in the case of Mini’s ad. First, the dogs are shown being quirky and having fun.

“It is these moments in the ad that stand out and evoke the most emotion, making people smile or surprising them,” Deason says. Key moments include the dog looking down the reversing camera, the dog enjoying the feeling of wind blowing through its fur, and when a number of dogs are caught relaxing on chairs in the showroom.

Facial coding reveals the three moments to cause the most facial reaction. Source: Kantar

“These distinctive moments overcome the risk that borrowed interest can arouse,” Deason explains. “Everyday things that we’ve seen many times before can feel boring, ordinary and not entertaining at all.”

Indeed, one participant in the study claimed to like both the background music of the ad, and “the dogs appearing in the cars, jumping from car to car, and generally enjoying themselves”.

According to Deason, another risk with borrowed interest – the intentional association of an unrelated theme or event with a product or service – is that it can “take over”, leaving the brand to take the back seat. This is a common challenge with Christmas ads and celebrities, she adds.

Giving the brand a central role in the story is therefore fundamental to creating memories and associations for your brand, which is the second element of the campaign Mini executes particularly well.

“The car is central to the fun things that the dogs do, and as the ad explains, Mini loves dogs and dogs love Mini,” Deason says.

Branding can be a challenge with cinema advertising, she adds in warning, as the cinematic feel and dramatic stories can also push the brand out of the spotlight. “Brands need to use this comparatively clutter-free environment to tell their stories and leverage creative and distinctive storytelling to stand out, not just to entertain,” Deason advises.

Finally, Kantar highlights the positive impact the music has on creating the fun mood Mini is reaching towards.‘Trustworthy, modern, expert’: Boots crowned June’s most effective ad

However, overall the ad only scores in the top 50% for branding and in the top 30% for brand cues. It also scores in the top 30% for salience, or the ad’s ability to earn attention and create branded memories.

According to Deason, the ad would be even more effective if the connection between Mini and the Dogs Trust was made clearer. “People want to understand what the nature and purpose of the relationship is. The partnership is meaningful,” she says, noting that through the partnership, Mini has evolved its showrooms to be more dog friendly and is allowing people to take their canine companions on test-drives. 

Additionally, Mini and Dogs Trust are working together to educate the nation’s dog owners on how to help their dog travel happily and safely.

“While these points may seem factual, this initiative is rooted in emotion for dog owners. Conveying this more clearly, but in an entertaining way that works well on the big screen ‘cinema style’, would positively strengthen the impact of the ad on the brand,” Deason concludes.

From pirate ship to major partnership

According to Mini’s Healey, the campaign was only originally meant to be what the company calls a “pirate ship project”: a small scale, test and learn passion project. It was conceived during a lunchtime, kitchen table discussion, after Healey realised the Clubman car model worked perfectly for her own badly behaved Labrador.

“The Mini outlook has always been the idea that life feels brighter behind the wheel of a Mini. It’s about displaying your individual characteristics, it’s about connection and personality,” Healey says. “So there was then this lovely discussion around whether life could feel brighter in the boot if you’re a dog. That was where this conversation started.”

From a strategic perspective, Mini was also looking for ways to get its bigger cars in front of audiences that have a credible use case for them. Traditionally, that had meant showcasing the cars in a more active context, such as for sports, bikes or with children in them to demonstrate the space.

But the brand had found a “really natural intersect” with this audience of dog-owners, especially those with a bigger dog, Healey says. “They do need a big car. Your priorities do shift a little in terms of what you’re looking for.”

Mini confirmed this hunch with a consumer survey of dog owners in its existing customer database. Needing 1,000 responses, interest in contributing to the survey was so high that the brand had to shut submissions within an hour.

The survey asked customers about the size of their dog, what car they already had, how much of an impact their dog has on purchasing decisions and their dog’s behaviour in the car. Having learned from Dogs Trust that there are key indicators of a dog being happy in a car, such as the pet being happy to jump in, the survey revealed the happiest dogs among Mini customers were those in a Clubman car.Tesco’s ‘Pop to Your Local’ revealed as May’s most effective ad

The survey also confirmed bigger dogs have a bigger impact on purchasing decisions, and that testing the dog in the car before purchasing is a major customer need.

At the same time, dog ownership has soared since the pandemic. Earlier this year, the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association said a total of 3.2 million households in the UK had acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic, with 12 million dogs now owned as pets in the UK.

Young people were the main drivers of this trend, with more than half of new owners aged 16 to 34.

“It’s a huge audience we wouldn’t normally speak to, but also a slightly younger audience,” Healey points out.

However, the partnership with Dogs Trust came because the brand didn’t want to fall into the “trap” of focusing on dogs as a one time campaign, “hopping on a bit of a moment in time” and doing something that didn’t have “longevity”.

Mini also wanted to make sure it executed the “responsibility piece”, as dog ownership increasing has also resulted in the number of dogs being given up post-lockdown rising dramatically. Dogs Trust gave the campaign the credibility it was looking for and the brand plans to work with the organisation through to next year.

“We want this to be long term, and we want it to be sustainable. We want it to be rooted in doing the right thing by the dogs and promoting the right messaging,” Healey adds.

“The North Star for the whole thing has been dog owners and dog lovers – it’s a huge community. We set out our ambition when we started this campaign that we wanted to become the first properly dog friendly car retailer.

“That’s exactly the Mini attitude in a wider sense, the idea of being very inclusive and encompassing, but also practical. We do want to showcase the big cars, but the emotional engagement with that campaign has been at the heart of it all.”

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