The campaign, via AOR San Francisco-based independent Venables Bell and Partners, is also the first in which the company has run ads during the Olympics. This is also the first year that Audi has advertised during the Super Bowl and national broadcast of the Academy Awards.
The new 60-second ad that broke and ran repeatedly during broadcast of the Olympic Games doesn't even show the car until the very end, when it fires a salvo at Mercedes-Benz with the suggestion that the automaker is old and staid while Audi is new and cutting-edge.
Much of the computer graphics-intensive spot shows the interior of a classic, rather staid luxury home transforming tile by tile, wall by wall, chair by chair as the camera floats through and around the interior space. There is no voiceover either--just Philip Glass-like violin and voice as the furnishings and interior motifs change from Victorian to contemporary. At the very end, the Mercedes car in the driveway changes to an A4.
A second spot, set to the same music, shows the A4 moving in slow motion down a track past floating letters that coalesce into the phrase "slower, smaller, less fuel efficient" over a trio of BMW, Mercedes and Lexus cars.
Scott Keogh, chief marketing officer for the Herndon, Va.-based Audi of America, says the ads have to be intriguing enough to bear repeated viewings. "One of the things we try to avoid is straight-up car-on-road. We knew consumers would be seeing the spots a number of times during the Olympics, so there needs to be a new tale with each view."
With a small media budget of around $70 million, Audi has had to work to build brand awareness, which Keogh says is critical for getting it into the first tier of luxury brands. He says the big-event media buys have moved the needle. "The big three things we track on a quarterly basis are awareness, opinion and consideration, and the last time we checked, all three were at record highs for the past 20 years," he says.
The flat market notwithstanding, Audi is aiming for record sales in the U.S. this year, says Keogh. "We think we will get good lift from launch of the new A4, which is in market mid-September."
The comparison ads--in addition to highlighting A4 technical attributes versus the likes of BMW 3-Series, Mercedes' C-Class and Lexus ES--are intended to change consumers' perception of where Audi stands in the hierarchy of luxury brands marketed in the U.S.
"First, it is extremely important to identify with our tier-one competitors," Keogh says. "The second thing is, when you are a challenger brand, consumers want to see the proof." He says such messages were implicit in this year's ads for the R8 sports car (a "Godfather"-themed spot that aired during the Super Bowl) and a spot for the new A5 car during the Academy Awards both suggesting that there are "certainly other choices than the same old-same old," says Keogh. "Now it's getting down to proof and facts."
The company has also been taking the comparison strategy to a grass-roots tour called Audi Drive, in which consumers can drive both Audi and competitive vehicles. Keogh says the A4 ads will continue in the fall via a national cable buy for the next nine weeks, including on Sunday nights' NFL games, "It's the largest campaign for Audi this year and certainly the largest in recent history," he says.