Exec uses 'acupuncture approach' to craft uniform marketing theme

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When Stephen Berkov took the job as Audi of America's marketing director last fall, the executive had some housecleaning to do.

The 36-year-old was determined to integrate Audi's communications, ridding the automaker and its agencies of silos. Among his first moves was to disband Audi's e-business team and reduce spending for online infrastructure, enabling the company to devote more money to spread Audi's message uniformly. "I wanted it integrated because it blurred the brand too much." Customer relationship management was also consolidated into his 10-person team.

The first vehicle launch he was able to call his own was the new A3 premium compact. He knew A3's 25-to-34-year-old target is turned off by advertisers "shouting at them, telling them what to buy. They smell artificial messaging and lack of authenticity," he said.

To reach consumers in an authentic way, Mr. Berkov launched two separate online efforts. A viral-and less-visible-blitz, dubbed "The Art of the Heist" sought consumer help in tracking down an A3 allegedly stolen from Audi's Manhattan showroom in March. The second effort, a more lifestyle-oriented approach called "What's Next," advertised online and in print ads, tracked the cross-country drives of three aspiring filmmakers in May and June. They blogged their way across America in their A3s. Consumers were asked to vote online for their favorite 15-minute film.

"I call it `acupuncture marketing,' or pinpoint marketing," Mr. Berkov said. "You go narrow and deep."

Traffic to Audi's Web site from the two programs reached new heights. The automaker was getting roughly 800,000 monthly visitors in 2004. But this year, traffic surged to 1.4 million monthly visits. And 33% of visitors went from A3 pages to also look for a dealer, price leases or configure the car vs. 25% for the A4 and 21% for the A6.

Havas' McKinney & Silver of Raleigh, N.C., handles Audi's national creative advertising account. Independent Enlighten of Ann Arbor, Mich., is Audi's interactive agency.

Lee Newman, group account director at McKinney, praised Mr. Berkov for having an "unbelievable passion about the Audi brand. He articulates it in a way that makes people think differently about it."

Mr. Berkov helped the agency clarify the brand's "Never Follow" ad tagline, expanding it from merely independent-minded owners to leadership, Mr. Newman said. And, he added, Mr. Berkov also has an "inherent understanding and instinct" about which other brands make great partners for Audi.

Mr. Berkov has a bicoastal and international background. Born in Boston, he grew up in Connecticut until his family moved to California in the mid-'80s. His UCLA majors in communications and Japanese studies helped land him a media-relations job right out of college with Toyota in 1991. He lived in Japan as an auto consultant until Audi hired him in 1999 to head marketing there. He worked in marketing at Audi's German headquarters from last March until his move to the U.S.

Mr. Berkov said the short-film effort was his brainchild blossoming from Audi's multiyear sponsorship of the American Film Institute's annual fall film fest. He also takes credit for luring Apple and Sony's consumer-electronics divisions as partners in the project, citing their authentic brand personalities that match Audi's.


Up next, Audi's top-of-the-line A8 sedan and A3 get plenty of screen time in 20th Century Fox's action movie "The Transporter 2," due out in September, but the automaker won't support the film with additional ad spending. Mr. Berkov hopes the movie will help build brand awareness. Propaganda, Los Angeles, handles the automaker's Hollywood gambits. Last summer Propaganda brokered for Audi prominent placement, in the form of a futuristic concept car, in Fox's sci-fi flick "I, Robot."

In the second half of 2005, Mr. Berkov said he has launched the first national ads in two years for the A8 in magazines including Conde Nast Publications' Vanity Fair. He is also increasing the number of events Audi does, focusing on major metro markets as he tries to broaden the brand's reach.

Additionally, Audi is working with WPP Group's MediaCom to sponsor TNT's cop show "The Closer," and will sponsor Fairchild Publications' Details' U.S. events to connect with the publication's so-called Black Card loyal readers.

Just Asking

What's the biggest surprise about the Detroit area you found after moving here? Birmingham, Mich., is as expensive as Manhattan and West L.A.

What are you reading? "A Whole New Mind" by Daniel Pink

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