Cute Mini Ad Has Room for Improvement

Cute Ad. And Not Terribly Useful.

Austin Minis are so doggone cute, when I see one in a parking lot I just want to pinch its little bottom. I feel much the same way about their ad for Meals on Wheels that runs in the November 2006 issue of Fast Company.

We’re giving over some ad space for a needy cause, “to red light hunger,” the ad says, and that's good. The Meals on Wheels Association of America in Alexandria, Va., helps enable meals to the nation’s elderly in local cities and towns, and can make good use your donation. No doubt any of the nation’s dozens of Meals on Wheels affiliates, where the rubber actually hits the road, would say the same.

But the ad strikes me as a one-off, and... if so... that would be too bad. I couldn’t find anything about a deeper relationship on either the website or at God bless Mini USA and their ad agency Sausalito, California-based Butler, Shine, Stern and Partners for thinking of a charity to support in this way, but I’d be surprised if the ad generates as much in donations to Meals on Wheels as it cost to design and run the ad.

That’s because magazine ads are terrific at generating awareness and even interest, but not so good at creating desire, commitment, or action. Rare is the magazine ad that will levitate the phone to a donor’s ear and a credit card to her hand.

Mini engenders great customer loyalty. They have an owner’s-only section of their website. They sell gear, including wearables, there, too. Given that, if I were Meals on Wheels, I’d rather have a one-time fundraising message in Mini’s owners’ newsletter than a one-time ad in Fast Company, sexy as that audience is. Better still, I’d want use of Mini’s owners list gratis with an endorsement letter from Mini USA.

But Butler, Shine, Stern and Partners ( probably can’t do that deal all by themselves. That’s why savvy charities work to build a strong relationship with the sponsor that’s distinct from the agency.

Mini USA did a nice thing here, a cute thing. Too bad they didn’t do a useful thing.

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