Reporting by Rain Noe & Perrin Drumm
Very clever, BMW.
If you've seen the small cars whizzing across the lawn at the Olympic stadium for track and field events and have been wondering whether remote-controlled car racing was added as a new Olympic sport this summer, rest assured that's not the case. You've spotted one of BMW Group's MINI Mini's, a 1/4-scale version of the street-ready MINI designed to transport sports equipment across the field. The speedy little guys are built with a 10-horsepower throttled electric engine and can carry up to 17.5 pounds, or two javelins (in the 'sunroofs'), a hammer, discus or shot. It measures just over 3.5 feet long, weighs 55 pounds and has a battery-powered radio control that gives it a 100-meter range and can hold a charge for 35 minutes and fully recharge in 80.
It has all sorts of other bells and whistles, too, none of which I'm entirely sure it needs. Dual vented disc brakes? Heavy-duty shock absorbers (have you seen how smooth and flat that field is)? Fully functional door handles? Headlights? Windshield wipers? If the phrase 'marketing gimmick' comes to mind, you're on the right trail, though it might also be called a brilliant marketing strategy.
The German auto giant is an Olympics Official Automotive Partner, meaning fleets of Bimmers and Minis are busily ferrying athletes to and from various venues. But while BMW is allowed to mention their OAP status in various ad spots, what they're not allowed to do is sully the actual venues with their own advertising; IOC rules prevent "commercial installations and advertising signs... in the stadia." (Omega, however, has somehow been allowed to have their logo on the timing clocks.)
So why are they allowed? Because as BMW has demonstrated to the London Olympics officials, the cute little things save time during the games as they tirelessly, speedily ferry gear back and forth. The three Minis in service cover some 18,000 meters a day between them, working in four-hour shifts each. At a strictly ad-free Olympics, BMW has figured out how to promote its MINI brand in a way that's hard to object to. Small cars are fun and hey, they're actually serving a purpose here, right?
The interesting thing about this, from a design perspective, is that the shape of the Mini is so iconic that it can serve as advertising without needing to splash its name across a banner. It has become a logo in itself. "We are obviously pleased with the result," BMW spokesman Graham Biggs told the Washington Post. "The Mini shape is recognizable—it's all about good design. They are not branded but the design is something people recognize as Mini."
Meanwhile, Timo Lumme, the IOC's director of TV and marketing services, notes that "there is no commercial reason" for choosing the Minis. "Yes," he said, "it happens to be the official partner of the London Games, but there is no commercial delivery," adding that the International Association of Athletics Federations, the organization responsible for the track and field competitions, cleared the use of the Minis. No commercial delivery? Puh-lease. There may not be a commercial in the traditional sense, but we can all see it's a MINI, and look how much fun it's having out there on the field at the Olympics, helping out the athletes with a bright cheery paint job. It kind of makes me want one...