2008 Creative Marketers: Audi

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Credit: Andy Cutraro
The thinking man's luxury car. The "architect's" car. The car for car design snobs. There are worse descriptors for your luxury auto brand.

For Audi CMO Scott Keogh (pictured), there's a better one though—U.S. luxury market ass kicker. Keogh and Audi are working to translate the brand's undeniable caché into mainstream, top-of-everyone's-A-list leadership status.

Audi, which has a history dating back to 1899, has long enjoyed the kind of favorable brand image that typically attaches to a company with a design-forward approach. The automaker is a market leader globally—it regularly ranks as number one luxury car in Europe and Asia. But the company now has ambitious goals for America, where, sales-wise, it trails Mercedes, BMW and Lexus. As always, the automaker is leading with its product—in this case, a lineup of lauded new designs including the sex-on-wheels R8 and the sleek A5. But with agency Venables Bell & Partners, Keogh has also engineered a bolder marketing presence for the brand.

"Audi has always been a brand about private prestige," says Keogh. "For people in the know. We want to move the brand into the public prestige area—recognized by the public not just the insiders." Cue VB&P and statement-making ads in places like the Oscars, the Olympics and, of course, the Super Bowl. Audi made a surprise grab at spot of the game with the superb Noam Murro-directed Godfather takeoff in which the horse head in the famous scene from the film is replaced with the grill of an old school luxury auto. It was one of a string of attention-getting efforts from VB&P. Others included a spot depicting an A4 spinning into a tight parking space—a shot at Lexus' "self-parking" feature and ads—and DVR-enabled quick clips, touting the speedy shift on the TT.

Keogh tapped VB&P shortly after he joined Audi in 2006. The comparative literature grad started out in PR at Burson-Marsteller before doing a 13-year stint at Mercedes, which included a gig as alternative media specialist (he oversaw the creation of Mercedes' first web site) and assignments in Germany and the U.S. He came to Audi, he says, because he saw an underleveraged brand and says that, right now, zeitgeist factors—like a growing mass appreciation for good design—are in Audi's favor. "The attention to detail is staggering," says Keogh. "At the end of the day you need the design aesthetic to be right—it's about proportion and thoughtfulness, not adding decoration. There are a lot of points of truth in these cars." Points of truth? "They talk about every surface being what it looks like it is—if it looks like aluminum it is, if it looks like wood or leather, it is," says VB&P's Paul Venables. "All of their revenue goes into innovation; there are exceptional design standards." Happily, says Venables, that culture of quality extends to brand communications.

"First and foremost it's a product-led company," says Keogh. ""It's important we carry that into our advertising. We don't want to do anything half-baked."

Read about Barack Obama, another of our 2008 Creative Marketers.
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