Audi Stars In Dark FX Drama Set on New Jersey Waterfront

Pushing The Boundaries of Advertising-as-Entertainment With Web/TV Series

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Designed to have the feel of a moody FX drama, and created in partnership with the network, the campaign "Untitled Jersey City Project" is a thriller set against a backdrop of hushed conversations, political intrigue and unscrupulous tycoons. But the main mystery for viewers to solve is the fact that Audi is behind it.

The campaign consists of eight roughly two-minute-long episodes that have been airing on Sunday nights on FX, culminating this weekend. The bulk of the paid media spend went toward teasing the series with a trailer that aired during the Emmys and early NFL broadcasts and during movie previews through a partnership with two cinema properties this fall. There was also an online syndication strategy to distribute the content on auto and entertainment sites, and also to conduct blogger outreach to build up organic viewership.

Each episode and trailer ends with a black screen showing the name of the series and a link to theFX-hosted site with no mention of Audi, where visitors can learn more about the characters and plot and connect to social media.

The Audi A6 driven by the main character -- an architect with a degree from Columbia, described on the website as "a working class kid who makes good," who's investigating his partner's death after he falls from a construction site on the Jersey City waterfront - does get some screen time. There are scenes demonstrating its voice-activation, hand-writing recognition and Google Earth mapping technology, but it's deliberately not the star of the show.

Adam Pincus, a managing partner and director of content at MediaCom, who was also executive producer of the series, said that Audi actually pushed back against some of the initial placement of the car, thinking it was too overt.

"It's got to work as content first, because if a consumer smells a commercial, it doesn't work as entertainment," Mr. Pincus said.

If the spots also conjure "The Sopranos" with their post-industrial vistas and redevelopment sites, it's not by accident. Mr. Pincus said there was an effort to emulate the tone of an HBO series with an emphasis on character development, and the project's director, Daniel Minahan, has worked on the HBO series "True Blood" and "Game of Thrones."

Measuring user engagement and viral activity will be a large determinant of the campaign's success, according to Loren Angelo, brand marketing manager for Audi. As of earlier this week, the website had had 81,981 visitors, and the online video content had been viewed 2.1 million times since hitting the web Sept. 18.

Mr. Angelo said that a major goal of the campaign is to move the needle in terms of brand perception for viewers who ultimately figure out that they're watching a piece of branded content for Audi. He said the team would be looking to assess whether Audi had been "more provocative and intelligent in the way that we were bringing the story to them."

Audi declined to say how much it's spent on "Untitled Jersey City Project." Its total U.S. media spend in 2010 was $81.7 million, according to Ad Age DataCenter.

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