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Hi, This Is Your Mini Speaking

Dec 22, 2007
In New York, Chicago and Miami owners of new and used Mini's are signing up for a new gimmick of personalised billboard messages displayed at the road side.

A radio chip embedded within the key fob sends a coded signal to the billboard that you are approaching and messages will flag up, dependent on the information the driver has supplied in a questionnaire. Examples are 'Hi Kate, nice day for your convertible'.

There have been complaints that Mini key fobs do not activate until within ten feet of the car, making them a little pointless. However, it is suspected that an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tag is responsible for the signal with a sensor in the road that sends information of the owner to the billboard.

This technology is not new. It has been used for some time in identification implants in livestock and pets as well as items like access control cards.

Manufacturers have invested in tags with RFID technology to track products as they go through the supply chain but doesn't this open up the possibility of tracking Mini owners and their activities?

Mini say this will not happen and that no personally sensitive information is held within the tags. Is it possible for 'hackers' to get into this transmitted information and change the messages to something wholly unsuitable? No different to any other digitally displayed advertising.

So, what is the idea of this? Is it just a gimmick for Mini drivers? I doubt that any business is going to plough those sort of set up costs into such a venture just to entertain its current customers.

It's more likely that this is just another form of advertising. But is it a good one? In typical Mini style, they like to steer they're advertising campaigns to show everyone that Mini owners are having a better time than everyone else. To see a personal billboard message is meant to show everyone that Mini owners are special.

However, with all the publicity surrounding the danger of mobile phone usage while driving, is it any safer to read a personal message instead of a text message? Is it good advertising to drivers of other vehicles who are then going to naturally be looking for the nearest Mini to see what 'Kate', 'Bill' or 'Tara' looks like?

It is argued that these billboards are no more distracting than other road signs. People read road signs all the time without it causing a problem but these are usually warning or directional signs. Isn't a personalised message a little different?

Maybe this would make Mini drivers, and others, less observant to what is going on around them if they are watching out for their name to come up in lights.

And what if you were stationary in a traffic jam? Apparently, 3 different personalised messages would be flashed up over a period of time before the billboard reverted to its usual standard advertising. By which time, everybody knows the name of the Mini driver and if he/she is driving irresponsibly at least you can personalise your insults!

If more than one Mini is in the vicinity, then it will pick up the nearest, display the owners message, and change to the next one after 10 seconds. Does this bring a potential for jealous road rage?

If this is purely gimmicky advertising aimed at non-Mini drivers, is it fair to play on a Mini owners ego to do the job that a quality car should do by itself? Is it fair to make Mini owners pay for their advertising?

Of the 150,000 used Mini and new Mini owners in the US, 1,000 have so far subscribed to this messaging service. Mini intend to monitor response to this campaign over the next three months. The government have already done so and intend to publish their findings on this subject very soon.
About the Author
Marketing expert Shaun Parker looks into the variety of uses for used Mini owners. To find out more please visit http://www.coopermini.co.uk/
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