If you’re having a hard time visualizing a relatively roomy, four-door, all-wheel-drive Mini automobile in the real world, BMW-owned automaker Mini USA understands your confusion, and they’ve got a solution. Simply pull out your iPhone, open the Virtual Mini app, and place an augmented reality version of the new Mini Countryman in your driveway, your garage, that pint-sized compact parking space near the front door at work, or in fact on your breakfast toast.
Mini agency of record Butler, Shine, Stern & partners worked with San Francisco-based agency Helios Interactive Technologies to build an app that can be downloaded directly from the Web, via the iTunes app store, Facebook or the Mini web site at MiniUSA.com. But for the month of March, it’s also accessible via a QR code published in ads in Wired magazine.
Once the app is downloaded, iPhone users can open it, point their camera at an object in the real world and tap the screen to bring up one of four colors of the new Mini countryman, available in the U.S. for the first time this year. Users can swipe a finger over the touchscreen to change the angle of the car and can use the basic pinch/spread to make the image bigger or smaller.
Consumers can take a photo of the AV picture and save it to a gallery on their phones of they can share it either through a posting to Facebook or by emailing it to friends.
A separate button on the iPhone app lets users leave the app and go to MiniUSA’s mobile Web site, where they can see more product specifications for the Mini Countryman. The mobile site also lets them check out recent financing or lease offers on Mini models or find a Mini dealer based on their current location or a ZIP code they might enter.
The new Mini Countryman offers all-wheel drive rather than the front-wheel drive found in other U.S. Mini models, along with two extra doors for rear passengers and a wheelbase that is 15.7 inches longer than a Mini hardtop.
“The strategy behind this campaign was that we had a somewhat larger vehicle for Mini, and we wanted to publicize that in a way that’s relevant to fans,” says John Butler, executive creative director at BSSP. “So we worked with Helios to create a utility that would allow them to visualize that on their own, in a typically fun Mini way.”
“Mini’s big thing was, ‘How can we get people to visualize what this would look like in their driveway, in their garage?’” Helios chief creative officer Jon Fox says. Originally Mini wanted to run what’s becoming a fairly standard augmented reality campaign, in which a user prints out a target, places it in a location, and then trains a phone camera on it. But to get a full-sized Mini form that operation would have required a bigger target than could be printed in Wired or any other magazine, so a dedicated iPhone app was the most practical approach, Fox says.
“We took the target away and brought in a CG 3D model of the car,” Fox says. “That way users can choose the color car they want to see. And because iPhones have the touch-scaling and –rotating features, you can put that car anywhere. So then it became more of a fun feature, and the client said, ‘Yes, this is Mini.’”
While specifics have not been decided, both Mini USA and BSSP expect that the Virtual Mini smartphone app will integrate with a larger campaign for the model later this year.
“The interesting story here is that we’ve started with traditional media, print, and punched out a QR code that allows people to get to the iTunes App Store, download the app, and get to this fun, cutting-edge result,” says Butler. “For us that was the biggest challenge: to reach people through traditional channels.”