Q&A: Audi’s Scott Keogh

DETROIT Did Audi have the classic Simple Minds’ song, “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” in mind—or was it Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”—when the company decided to purchase a 60-second spot on Fox for Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3? The last (and only) time Audi appeared in the big game was Super Bowl XXV in 1991, when the car company bought a pair of 60-second spots at a time when 30-second ads cost $800,000. The price is now about $2.7 million for a 30-second ad. So why jump into the expensive Super Bowl waters after more than 15 years?

The spot, via Venables Bell & Partners, San Francisco, is part of a major push by Audi to energize the brand and establish its credibility as a top-tier luxury automaker. “I think it’s something that is impactful and powerful, and we want to get that ‘Wow’ factor during the Super Bowl,” said Scott Keogh, CMO at Audi of America, Auburn Hills, Mich.

The star of the 60-second ad, to air in the first quarter, will be Audi’s R8 roadster (starting price: $109,000), which also will be part of online teaser spots at AudiWorld.com. In addition, Audi will have a starring role in Paramount Pictures’ Iron Man, set for release in early May, with Robert Downey Jr. as the Marvel superhero whose vehicle of choice is the R8. Gwyneth Paltrow drives Audi’s A5 in the film.

Audi also will continue to expand its online marketing. Recent efforts include a podcast series that informs consumers how to use various functions in Audi cars and a pair of 15-second spots as part of its “Truth in engineering” series that directed viewers to a microsite for the Audi TT. The spots were played at high speed so that consumers would have to record them on DVRs, then play back the ads at a slower speed to catch all the nuances. Audi of America spent $67.7 million on media in 2006 and $27.5 million January-October 2007, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Despite heavy competition from the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus, Audi said that it is headed for record sales both globally and in the U.S. when the final numbers for 2007 are posted. That means eclipsing the 1 million units sold worldwide and the 90,000 mark domestically. “We want to grow this brand and it’s going to require America to see us differently,” said Keogh, who joined the company in May following a stint at Mercedes. “We know we need to get ourselves up the food chain. Buyers in this segment do not buy unknowns.”

Keogh spoke with Brandweek senior reporter Steve Miller about Audi’s marketing plans for 2008.

Q: How did the Super Bowl XLII media buy come about?
A: We sat around in a room with a bunch of marketing partners talking about the R8 and the year ahead. All of a sudden everything started to align as we considered a couple of things. We realized that the Audi brand is on a roll and that we will reach record sales globally this year and a record number in the U.S. as well. So we wanted to kick off 2008 in a really big way. With the R8 receiving this great response [since it hit U.S. dealerships in October], the Super Bowl was the final piece of the puzzle. Here is this opportunity to tell America that this is a luxury car that has to be taken seriously. So we put a big smile on our face and went ahead. [Editor’s note: Automobile Magazine named it the 2008 automobile of the year and Germany’s prestigious Autobild Sports Cars magazine designated it best sports car for 2007.]

How will Audi stand out from the Super Bowl XLII glut of ads?
The struggle between old luxury and the new is symbolized through the R8, and we have a creative concept that will do just that. I don’t want to detail it at this point. We can just say it will bridge that gap.

What’s happening after the Super Bowl?
What we are doing [in 2008] with our media buys are on the bigger properties. We start with the Super Bowl, then go to the Oscars, then the Summer Olympics. We are looking at big leadership, iconic media properties where we can have a significant presence. Also, looking at the election year, we took some upfront bets. That was done looking at the strong scatter market in TV due to the elections, since elections can preempt anything in that market. But it’s not just TV. We more than doubled our online ad budget in 2007 [to about $1.2 million, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus] and we’ll double it [again] for 2008.

What role will Audi play in the upcoming Iron Man movie?
We have some dramatic scenes in the movie, which comes out in the spring. Robert Downey Jr., who plays the title Iron Man character, drives the R8 when he is the [secret identity] Tony Stark character. Gwyneth Paltrow, his secretary, drives an Audi A5. We did this deal because the car is not an accessory piece on the set. We have scenes where Audi absolutely fulfills the character and plays a role, especially the R8. [Downey] plays an entrepreneurial character who has fueled his industry on high tech, and we felt this is where the R8 belongs. The movie will give us even more opportunities for some above-the-line communication in Q1 and some greater events opportunities for the R8 and for Audi. It’s an adventure movie, which shows that what we want is not just for the intellectual, in-the-know audience for our brand. We want America to know about us.

You ran an ad that took a poke at Lexus’ self-parking technology, stating that Audi is “the car for people who can park themselves.” Will that attitude continue?
With our parking spot, we were getting after a mind-set that is “hit a button and we’ll take care of everything.” Our owners want dynamic driving features. They know how to performance drive and they enjoy it. I think you’ll see in the Super Bowl that we will again do that with the ad, taking on what we consider an old luxury world.

Has the Writers Guild strike affected Audi’s marketing plans?
So far, it’s fine. Whether through good luck or good planning for 2008, our media buys aren’t as dependent on TV as in past years.