BMW vs. Audi: The Best Media Plan on Four Wheels?

Optimedia CEO Antony Young Analyzes the Media Strategies Behind Two Leading Luxury Auto Brands

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Antony Young
Antony Young

One of my first memories of the advertising industry was walking past an ad agency in my hometown and noticing a row of European cars parked outside. I recall thinking at the time: "Hey, I'm not exactly sure what this company does, but I wouldn't mind getting a job there!" This month, we test drove the media strategies for BMW and Audi.

The automotive category is consistently among the biggest, most competitive and innovative media spenders. While automotive manufacturers typically focus on model-led advertising, both BMW and Audi put a much stronger emphasis on their brands. This is reflected in the allocation of media spending this year, when each spent between 50% and 55% of its media budget on brand or range ads for multiple models.

Creative executions

In 2010 BMW embarked on one of its biggest branding campaigns to date. A new theme, "The Joy of Driving," was integrated into every television, digital and print ad as well as event and team sponsorships. The theme shifted the focus from the car to the car owner. The "ultimate driving machine" slogan still appears in the ads, but the shift in emphasis was apparent with copy in one of its print ads that read "At BMW we don't make cars, we make Joy."

Audi takes on BMW and Lexus

Audi has pushed two significant platforms so far this year. The first continued its tongue-in-cheek series of comparative ads. One commercial, for example, portrays Audi as a better alternative to a Lexus, Mercedes and even a Ferrari. A second spot directly targeting BMW, titled "BMW Can Relate to the Runners Up," shows several competitive scenarios after which the winners boast and the "runners-up" have to sit there and watch. That ad highlights that Audi has defeated BMW in Car and Driver magazine's model comparisons for the past three years.

The second platform sought to establish Audi's sustainability credentials, launching its A3 TDI diesel technology through a spot called "Green Police."


5 stars Outstanding
4 stars Highly effective
3 stars Good
2 stars Disappointing
1 star A disaster

Video strategy (broadcast, online, mobile)

BMW 3 1/2 stars
Audi 5 stars

Both automotive brands developed comprehensive broadcast, online and mobile video programs.

Audi's broadcast and online video placements centered heavily on major sports events -- which meant Audi outspent BMW on network television. Audi launched its "Green Police" commercial in this year's Super Bowl. The spot itself garnered a lot of buzz, getting more than 2.2 million views to date on YouTube. But the commercial was also teased with a series of Green Police mock PSA videos on a YouTube Green Police channel. One spot advocated avoiding "napkin abuse" to save a billion pounds of napkins from landfills each year.

Audi immediately followed with a substantial presence during NBC's Winter Olympics coverage. In addition to the standard commercial buys, Audi -- a U.S. ski team sponsor -- produced a documentary about the U.S. Ski Team called "Truth in Motion" that aired on NBC prior to the Games on Jan. 30. Audi also promoted the team through webisodes distributed on sites such as Facebook and and in Audi's monthly newsletter.

Other video buys this year included March Madness and the FIFA World Cup. Finally, for this year's involvement with the American LeMans car race, Audi worked with Speed network to produce real-time streaming of the race on SkyGrid, an app that aggregates real-time news for Apple's iPad.

BMW's 2010 Joy campaign kicked off in the Winter Olympics. Spots included 60-second executions showing how BMW brings drivers "Joy" in driving and in fuel efficiency. BMW integrated the message in the Games by sponsoring NBC's "Olympic Moments of Joy" segments. On the digital side, BMW executed "Joy" with homepage takeovers on NBC-owned sites that connected BMW branded "Golden Moments of Joy" videos and the "Golden Moments of Joy" section on NBC's Olympic iPhone app and the site also featured "Joy" infused banners and pre-roll video.

While Audi's television buy was more centered in network TV, BMW ran a much heavier skew on local broadcast and cable. In contrast to Audi's sport-skewed schedule, BMW bought around news -- FOX News, CNN, CNBC and MSNBC -- and general entertainment on networks such as TNT, TBS and USA.

Online and Social

BMW 4 stars
Audi 3 stars

Both companies have a significant online display presence, but BMW out voiced Audi in this category in terms of sheer impressions with nearly four times the load. They also had a higher ratio of rich media content. Over a third of BMW's impressions served over the past year were rich media display placements versus less than 5% for Audi.

The company's YouTube page has been branded the new BMW TV. It features a collection of BMW television ads, branded short-form videos and racing and driving footage of all of the company's models. The featured video shows the travels of 12 Canadian BMW enthusiasts who were given the chance to drive their favorite BMW models on the high speed motorways across Europe.

Audi took a big position in Yahoo during the FIFA World Cup and was the exclusive sponsor for Yahoo's coverage of the entire month long sporting event.

Both ran schedules on endemic automotive sites such as, AutoWeek, Auto Trends, Car and Driver and AutoTrader.

Audi's Facebook page currently features an online petition to bring Audi's TT RS model into the U.S market. Its YouTube page has several driving videos of Audi models and some of the company's most recent commercials.

To generate buzz for its Green Police Super Bowl spot, Audi hosted the "Audi Efficiency Challenge" during Super Bowl weekend. The challenge pitched influential journalists against NFL players, including Chad Henne of the Miami Dolphins and Osi Umenyiora of the New York Giants, in a race to determine who could achieve the best fuel-efficiency in the Audi Q7 TDI clean diesel SUV while driving from Audi headquarters in Herndon, Va., to Miami. Each participant's progress was tracked on Facebook and Twitter.


BMW 4 1/2 stars

Audi 4 stars

Mobile apps have become a new plaything for marketers and, you would have to believe, a worthwhile channel to engage a significant number of the right target customers. Kudos to both BMW and Audi for maintaining a rich depth of related apps and podcasts on the iPhone, iTouch and iPad platforms. They produce a variety of podcasts, video content, brand experiences and related news content for their enthusiasts. I feel BMW has a slightly richer level of content through BMW magazine's iPad apps and BMW TV podcasts. The BMW Z4 features a 360 degree view of the new Z4 roadster, which does a nice job for the brand. I also liked its Motorsport Le Mans 2010 app which was populated with some rich content.

Audi's A4 Driving Challenge driving simulation, one of its most popular gaming apps, had good graphics but, I have to admit, leaves me a little dizzy.

While video and interactive experiences are the vogue, I would have liked to have seen some quality audio. I'm sure many drivers who are able to connect their iPods to their cars' audio systems would be open to listening to some content that adds to their driving experience.


BMW 4 stars
Audi 3 stars

To promote the Joy launch, BMW ran a series of spreads in January issues of Conde Nast titles such as Bon App�tit, Conde Nast Traveler, GQ, Vanity Fair, W, Wired and The New Yorker. A notable print execution of the campaign was a custom four-page spread in Vanity Fair's March Hollywood issue featuring vintage images of Elvis and his BMW 507 under the title "Joy is Timeless."

Much of Audi's print focus has been centered around its Sportscar Experience Driving School. Audi tends to focus on endemic automobile and racing publications.

Film sponsorship and product placement


Audi 4 stars

Audi activated a marketing promotion around "Iron Man 2" that included prominent product placements for the R8 Spyder and the A8 sedan. Related marketing efforts included "Iron Man" themed spots in movie theaters, on late night TV and a presence on and An episode of "Entertainment Tonight" integrated the R8 Spyder by featuring Robert Downey Jr. and director Jon Favreau discussing the vehicle as well as host Mark Steines covering it in a segment. Audi also sponsored the re-launch of, which showcased the car via a digital comic book.

Audi's social media aspect of its "Iron Man" marketing came about in the "Tony Stark Innovation Challenge" contest, which promoted the movie's theme of technology as a force for good. Consumers were challenged to submit two-minute videos containing ideas for inventions that promoted cleaner living to and then promote the videos on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace in order to garner comments, discussion and consumer ratings .

"Iron Man 2" was not the only movie with an Audi. Tina Fey and Steve Carrell's characters stole the R8 Coupe from Mark Wahlberg in "Date Night," while Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz drove the S5 Cabriolet in "Knight and Day."


BMW 4 stars

Audi 4 1/2 stars

These are two premiere marketers in an incredibly competitive category. Both scored superbly on my ratings . The emphasis on engagement over impressions was a notable feature of both marketers' media strategies. BMW is doing a lot of things right with its brand in media, particularly in online and mobile. But Audi nudged ahead on the basis of a very dynamic television and video strategy that helped elevate and create distinctiveness for its brand. There's a lot that goes into driving sales beyond just advertising, but a 27.1% year to date increase in Audi's sales is hard to argue against.

Research and data compiled by Nora Scullin at Optimedia.

Antony Young is CEO of Optimedia US -- a Publicis Groupe-owned media planning and buying agency headquartered in New York. He is a regular contributor on brand media strategy for Advertising Age. Follow him on Twitter @antonyyoung.
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