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Men of Metal: The Anatomy of a Hoax
June 1, 2004
by Michael Walls

Well, it seems the “Men of Metal” hoax has reached a “Blair Witch Project” level of hype, as the frenzy of internet traffic continues to bombard message boards and blog pages. All this, even after the New York Times “broke” the story to the masses, quoting Mini Cooper’s ad agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, as saying the ad campaign was “interactive fiction.”

2 Walls Webzine was nearly two weeks ahead of the New York Times, and can boast being the first reputable internet webzine to crack the conspiracy. (See Men of Metal: Horror or Hoax?)

In the Times article, Crispin Porter does a fine job of saying practically nothing, while at the same time acknowledging their handywork, saying “the feedback we’ve received has been extremely positive.”

But the admittance of an elaborate hoax and marketing campaign, spread out across several bogus websites, hasn’t seemed to quell the excitement or belief that gigantic robots are roaming freely among the side roads of Oxford, England. Like urban legends that never die, some people want to believe.

So while the overzealous robots fanatics continue to chatter about “real” versus “fiction” – the rest of us are still trying to figure out exactly what Crispin Porter & Bogusky are selling.

In my previous article I concluded or eluded that the product was Mini Cooper. Certainly a safe bet, given the amount of exposure and attention Mini was given in the excerpt pamphlet for “Men of Metal.” And certainly knowing that Crispin Porter & Bogusky are running the show for Mini Cooper, this is exactly the type of “shock” advertising they are quickly becoming famous for.

Previous campaigns for Mini Cooper include Minis sitting atop of SUVs (in the fashion of a mountain bike or kayak) and driven around the country; Minis exhibited in the stands of National League Football and Major League Baseball games; Minis sitting in shopping malls with signs reading “$16,995 in quarters for a ride”; and Mini posing for a 2002 Playboy centerfold spread. In print, Mini has also been unconventional, with ads gracing only the borders of editorial pages as tiny minis race around the margins.

So the obvious conclusion to the “Men of Metal” hoax is that it is an advertisement for Mini – perhaps the new Mini Convertible which was unveiled in March at the Geneva Motor Show.

But then why the shadowy vagueness revealed in the Times article? Haven’t we already figured out this scam? What else is there to be “revealed” in the coming month? The New York Times is certainly smart enough not to be manipulated into perpetuating an advertising campaign, right?

I believe the boys over at Crispin Porter & Bogusky are far too clever to be strong-armed into admitting their devilish plot to a gullible Times reporter. After all, how much fact checking really goes into a section C, page 8 feature story about some savvy marketing geeks?

No, I don’t think we’ve seen everything yet. I think the consuming public is in for more interesting twists.

First of all, the mysterious author of “Men of Metal,” Mr. Rowland Samuel, has suddenly appeared – defending his book against claims of hoax and advertising fraud – on his website, rowlandsamuel.com. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing the fictitious Mr. Samuel on the late night talk show circuit pitching his story and his book (with, I’m sure, a few good mentions of Mini Cooper and BMW).

Second of all, in all of the hubbub about Mini Cooper advertising, the ignored element within this “Men of Metal” drama, is the Men of Metal themselves – the robots.

The Transformer fans are the only ones that have picked up on it and have continued to toss around their theories.

Transformers – Hasbro’s popular action figure toys – have had a huge following since they were first introduced in 1984. They are now surging again in popularity thanks to cartoons, comic books and most recently the release of a video game version for PlayStation by Atari. But the biggest buzz around Transformer boards is the rumor of a full length, live action Transformer movie, which is reportedly in production at New Line Cinema and due for release in early 2006.

This is what the Transformer fans think “Men of Metal” is all about. I gigantic advertisement for the Transformer movie and Transformer craze.

It makes sense actually. The autonomous robots seen in Dr. Colin Mayhew’s schematic drawings and test videos, resemble the Transformer design, right down to the spinning wheels on the shoulders.

Of course, Mini Cooper would have to have a staring roll in any such film, tying in the concept of robots built from Mini Cooper parts.

BMW also isn’t a stranger to marketing their vehicles in movies. In 1995, BMW and MGM Studios became marketing partners for BMW’s Z3 Roadster and MGM’s James Bond movie “GoldenEye.”

BMW is also currently running an HDTV series called “The Hire.” A series of short action films – directed and produced by big names like Tony Scott and John Woo, and staring big names like Gary Oldman and James Brown – can be downloaded and viewed for free at BMWfilms.com – all for the sole purpose of advertising.

So the car industry and the movie industry work well together, both at entertaining us and selling us products. It would make sense that Mini Cooper could capitalize on the Transformer craze by positioning itself squarely in the center of such a concept – maybe setting the stage and preliminary storyline with it’s “Men of Metal” piece.

This is all speculation of course. What Mini Cooper and Crispin Porter & Bogusky are really up to is still locked up in a storyboard conference room in South Florida. But this much is certain – in the new world of advertising, not everything is what it seems.

(Michael Walls is a volunteer staff writer for 2 Walls Webzine and has never been to Oxford England.)


Notes:
Keep in mind, the technology for creating these Transformer-like robots doesn’t exist yet. But the technology for making it look like the technology for creating these Transformer-like robots does.

• Mazda RX8 Transformer

• Volkswagon Beetle Transformer
• Honda Accord "The Cog" movie


Related links:
New York Times article
• Rowland Samuel’s website
• Crispin Porter & Bogusky website
• BMWfilms.com


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