Like a previous film about auto racing, this latest branded-entertainment initiative has its roots in Scott Keogh attending a high-intensity event. When the marketing chief caught an Audi-sponsored ski race in Colorado, he felt the company could capitalize on the downhill thrill beyond having its name on the marquee. A chance to meet the racers persuaded the CMO there was a cast of charismatic individuals that needed to be unmasked.
"When I had a chance to go behind the scenes with the team, I was just, like, we've got to get this on film," he said.
Audi then commissioned "Truth in Motion: The U.S. Ski Team's Road to Vancouver," which is set to air in prime time Jan. 30 on NBC.
After that, the one-hour film will also be carried on USA and three more times on the Universal Sports Network. The deal for the skiing film on the three NBC Universal networks is believed to be part of a broader arrangement that includes heavy Audi advertising on NBCU's Vancouver coverage.
The documentary follows the skiers as they prepare for the Vancouver Olympics in February, chronicling the often gruesome training and qualifying process, along with personal triumphs and heartache.
The Audi brand is woven in, from shots of logos on uniforms to the skiers driving the latest models up the hill at 4:30 a.m. for a practice run. Audi is an official sponsor of the U.S. team.
Perhaps energizing "Truth in Motion" are U.S. team members Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn. Miller is a top racer and magnetic personality whose story includes a miserable failure at the last Winter Olympics; he's now looking for redemption. The effervescent Vonn is considered the best female skier in the world.
"Truth in Motion" follows a similar tactic that Audi employed earlier this year -- via another "Truth In ..." documentary that aired on ESPN. "Truth in 24" captured the famed "24 Hours of Le Mans" car race in France, where Audis have a dominant presence. Marketing head Keogh greenlit the film after attending the dynamic competition.
Audi has other sports sponsorships, including a major one with competitive sailing.
Would Keogh launch a "Truth In Knots: Figuring Out The High Seas" documentary? Or another "Truth In ..." gambit related to the company's golf or soccer connections?
"I don't want to say there's going to be a third and a fourth part," he said. "But we are going to always be on the lookout."
Audi would not comment on details, but said it is not paying for the air time. NBC has rights to sell the advertising and had no production costs. Audi is an advertiser in the show and has exclusivity in the auto category.
Keogh said NBC was eager to air the content. The production could build interest in skiing and the Olympics in general. Like track and field, skiing seems to create interest among Americans only in Olympic years.
With "Truth in Motion," Keogh said Audi faces the conundrum of advancing its marketing objectives without putting off the viewer. While editing continues, he said a balance is emerging.
"I have absolutely no worries that when people watch it, they're going to feel Audi," he said. "But I in no way want to create artificial-isms -- where all of a sudden an Audi sort of arrives in a scene."
U.S. skiers, however, are loaned a range of Audi models to drive while training. And a scene in the film has them going to the company's slick German headquarters to pick up their rides -- with excited employees greeting them.
The racers are also followed as they compete in the Audi-backed World Cup skiing series, which offers ample opportunity for the camera to capture Audi signage and other brand exposure.
Adam Pincus, an executive at the branded entertainment arm of Audi agency MediaCom, is one of the executive producers. Rick Gentile, who produced three Winter Games for CBS, is the other. Prominent documentarian Brett Morgen is the director.
in addition to the effort to generate some marketing momentum from the entertainment quotient, CMO Keogh said research backed up the decision to finance the documentary. He said 38% of Audi owners can be labeled "ski enthusiasts" -- evidence that many viewers could be potential customers.
Beyond the national TV broadcast, Audi is looking to capitalize on "Truth in Motion" at a more grassroots level. Several weeks before the NBC debut, dealers will be holding exclusive screenings, while U.S. ski team members will be visiting their facilities to sign autographs.
"It's to build excitement leading up to the Olympics at retail," Keogh said.