Audi's new advertising campaign for the 2012 A6 sedan is showing us our roads. The effort is all about how lousy American roads are becoming as our infrastructure falls apart -- and the only thing in good supply are morons and the criminally insane, who populate our highways in cars that shouldn't have gotten a pass at the DMV.
Okay -- that's the New York version and not how Audi would have put it (they're based, after all, in civilized Virginia, not -- like Mercedes-Benz and BMW -- in New Jersey, where drivers are lunatics and even the roads are scared.)
The message of the new campaign, "making the road a more intelligent place," also happens to be about how the automaker designed the new vehicle to handle what has happened to the once-great American highway. Elaborated in print, online and broadcast advertisements beginning this month, the effort talks up the Audi A6's ability to overcome obstacles, while enhancing driver safety and enjoyment.
The TV creative shows roads with more holes and ruptures than the budget, flanked by signs as comprehensible as the tax code. Then there are the drivers: one guy reads a newspaper while driving, a woman is texting, a truck carrying a precarious stack of car tires dispenses them like immense black Cheerios as it careens down the road. There are shots of roads where skid marks head directly toward ruptured retaining walls, overpasses are half complete, broken TV sets and abandoned lounge chairs litter the margin.
Voiceover: "The road is not exactly a place of intelligence. Across the nation, over 100,000 miles of roads and bridges are in disrepair. Add to that countless distractions every mile. Half a million cubic yards of debris, and the 38 million drivers who couldn't pass the driver's exam today." Enter a guy in an A6 who uses the car's MMI touchpad that recognizes handwriting (in multiple languages, no less) to navigate past a traffic jam and onto those more Elysian roads we are used to seeing, at least in car ads.
A second execution points out that highway repair is underfunded, costing drivers $67 billion per year. The ads with the tagline "The road is now an intelligent place" will run in national and cable buys with print in national newspapers and online beginning this month. Additional print ads will appear in automotive magazines.
Scott Keogh, Audi's CMO, tells Marketing Daily the campaign addresses a collision of technology-driven driver behavior, societal trends and the economy.
"You always need a smart cause and you need a solution to it," he says. "First, it's absolutely obvious to every person behind the wheel that we have a big intersection of technology and mobile technology and people using it in cars; a road system that has been left unmaintained; an environment where there's a host of people behind the wheel who haven't been trained; and a lot of construction projects going on. Merge that with traffic stress."
Besides the touchpad, the effort also talks up Audi's integration of Google Earth in its Navigation system. The system combines 3D terrain modeling with aerial views and a detailed street network. It also has wireless Internet for real-time weather, traffic, news and live fuel prices. The ads also feature Standard Drive Select, where you can set different suspension criteria for the car depending on road surface.
Keogh says the A6 was designed "to be a tool to help you navigate complexity of roads." He says that the new technologies are also in the 2012 A7 and the A8 -- "and most will work their way into other cars, as well."
Audi is on track to have a record year despite an economy recovering -- if that's the word -- at a glacial pace. Sales are up 15% year-to-date. "I think we are as braced for this economy as any company can be," says Keogh. Last month, Kelley Blue Book's KBB.com gave Audi the brass ring among luxury brands for having the lowest average Total Cost of Ownership for the initial five-year ownership period.