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🧠The Blemishing Effect: How BMW & Mini conquered the US auto market

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Hi there - Jen here :)

Mini is one of the best-loved car brands on Earth.

But how did this tiny car, created to help post-war Britons save money on gas, go from being a budget-saver to a premium-priced cult brand?

Minis aren’t as fast as a Lamborghini or as sexy as a Ferrari.

They aren’t as tough as a Jeep or as luxurious as a Mercedes.

So they had to get creative.

Mini are masters of using marketing psychology to create raving fans.

It’s down to a psychological principle known as the Blemishing Effect.

Today you’ll learn:

  • Mini: The origin story of a cult brand

  • The Blemishing Effect: How Mini Used Psychology to Conquer the US Automotive Market

  • How to use the Blemishing Effect to grow your business (no matter its size)

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Mini: The origin story of a cult brand

Right after the end of World War II, British auto makers were actually designing bigger cars.

But they were forced to reconsider this strategy, when the Suez Crisis unfolded in the Middle East and Europe raising the prices of oil and fuel and hindering post-war recovery.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Sir Leonard Lord of the Morris Car Company built a small car that could carry four adults, with a low price and even better fuel economy...

The Mini was born.

It quickly became a cultural icon in Britain and a symbol of the “swinging 1960s” in London.

And when racing legend John Cooper got his hands on it in 1961, his “Mini Cooper” became a powerful force on the rally car circuit.

Mini exported a limited number of cars to the US, but was pulled out of the market in 1978 due to slowing sales and tight regulations regarding minimum size and weight.

Fast forward to the year 2001, Mini had been sold to BMW was finally ready to come back to the United States.

There was just one problem:

The American automotive market was dominated by a "bigger is better" mentality.

An underdog from the start, Mini had to use some clever marketing psychology to break through in a market ruled by cars like the Ford F150.

The Blemishing Effect: How Mini Used Psychology to Conquer the US Automotive Market

Because most Americans don’t have the constraints of tiny London parking spots or expensive fuel prices, the Mini’s small size didn’t make much sense for American drivers.

The US is huge, fuel is cheaper, and most of the driving is done on wide interstates, fighting for space with 18-wheelers.

A typical US commute.

The requirements and challenges of US roads makes having a bigger car a safety advantage.

Mini knew all this - but their marketing leaned into their biggest “flaw.” The car’s relatively tiny size.

But why?

Well, because - consciously or not - they knew about a psychology principle called the Blemishing Effect.

🧠 What is the Blemishing Effect?

This psychological principle says that when we show a little negative information alongside positive information, we can make something seem more attractive.

Mini took advantage of this effect by being upfront about its disadvantage in the American market - its "mini" size.

Lots of brands use the Blemishing effect to make themselves more lovable.

Just take Pringles who’s 2023 Superbowl ad showed people getting their hands stuck at the bottom of its long tubular can [Watch the video on YouTube]:

Or Heinz Ketchup’s advertising that focuses on how slow it is to come out of the bottle:

How to use the Blemishing Effect to grow your business

If you want to use the Blemishing Effect, start by:

  • Talking to and listening to your customers - is there a quirk in your product that they love to hate?

  • Communicating the small imperfections that make your product unique. (But don’t pick something that’s integral to how the product works, like how Teslas allegedly have the tendency to catch fire)

  • Thinking about how you can dial up this quirk and present it alongside your product’s positive features.

Thought of the Week

👉 Marketing tip for brands & entrepreneurs:

What’s obvious to you is not obvious to your buyers.

That’s why building and marketing are two different skill sets -

Builders need to be close to the product.

Marketers need to be close to the customer.

Read, Listen, Watch

  • Why Steve Jobs Stole From a Hotel to Build the First Apple Store (And You Should Too) [Read]

  • The Choice Hacking Podcast has wrapped up Season 5 a few weeks ago, but I’ll be back with Season 6 soon. Click to catch-up before the new season starts → [Listen]  

  • Navigating the Customer Journey with Behavioral Science and Marketing Psychology - an interview with me (Jen) on the Brainy Business Podcast [Listen]

Until next time,

Jen Clinehens, MS/MBA
Founder & MD Choice Hacking
Courses, Coaching, and Consulting to help brands use psychology, behavioral science, and AI to grow

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👉 When you’re ready we can help you, too:

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