Audi revs up for A4

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Audi of America introduces the 2002 model of its best-selling A4 sports sedan tonight with its largest launch budget ever.

Audi, the arm of Germany's Volkswagen AG, will spend $25 million in the fourth quarter. The total will be dedicated to the redone A4, according to National Advertising Manager Mary Ann Wilson. That compares with $16 million in measured media for fourth quarter 2000, as measured by Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

Audi's effort arrives a week after competitor BMW of North America introduced its 2002 model 3 Series line on national cable and spot TV. The A4's other main German rival, Mercedes-Benz USA's C-Class, began featuring its all-new C-Class sports coupe with national cable and spot TV commercials in late July.

McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C., acquired by Havas Advertising in April from bankrupt MarchFirst, created a pair of :30s for the A4 and several print spreads. In addition to a heavy TV rotation, Audi A4 will be the only product advertised for a month starting Nov. 1 on boards, kiosks and the floors of Manhattan's Grand Central and San Francisco's Montgomery Street Station. "We wanted to raise the profile of the A4" with the monthlong "station domination" and expanded buys on high-profile programming such as NBC's "The West Wing" and "Frasier," said John Klein, media director at the agency.

The TV spots don't focus on any of the improved aspects of the car. "We wanted to talk about the experience of driving the car," said Cameron McNaughton, senior VP-director of client services at the agency. "It's a stunning-looking car."

If anything, the two spots understate the A4's bigger size, improved optional V-6 engine and technological advances. One, done in a suspense-spy genre, shows a man driving the A4 on dark, deserted streets. "Suddenly every ride is exciting," the narrator says, as the viewer learns he merely went to pick up a pizza.

Launch commercials for BMW's 3 Series and Mercedes' C230 also aim for the emotions. The spot for BMW's 3 Series, by Publicis Groupe's Fallon, Minneapolis, uses a strobe-light effect with fluctuating shots of the car and an owl, giving the impression both are moving, while suggesting a subtle comparison between flight and the car's handling.

Omnicom Group's Merkley Newman Harty, New York, created a single :30 for the Mercedes' C-Class coupe. The spot uses the quirky Geggy Tah song "whoever you are" as a bearded 30-something male joyfully drives the car from the city to the country. BMW is also hiking its fourth-quarter ad spending and the new 3 Series will get the bulk of it, said Jim McDowell, VP-marketing. The brand spent $35 million in the same period a year ago, according to CMR.

In a year that has proven tough for many car brands, BMW and Mercedes have seen sales rise on entry-level luxury lines. BMW 3 Series sales rose to 78,980 units through September vs. 64,281 a year ago, according to Ad Age sibling Automotive News. Mercedes-Benz C-Class sales grew to 35,274 units in the first nine months of the year from 24,229 a year ago. Not unusual in the year before a redesign, Audi A4 sales were flat for the period. Audi sold 25,819 A4s through September, just 149 less than a year ago.

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