Audi Revs Its Engines

Open on a quiet, leafy, suburban street that, while not quite Last Picture Show-tumbleweed-boarded-up-empty, seems to be an out-of-the-way spot. Birdies sing. Children cross it in the distance. And then, like a bat out of hell (or a car out of the French Connection), a great-looking Audi A7 roars up, tires screeching, and does a careening, no-point power slide into a parking spot between two Lexuses. (Lexi?) “The car for people who can park themselves,” the title card reads.

Talk about coming out swinging. There’s a tough, new Audi in town, and he’s got a stunt driver!

The 30-second spot, “Parking,” is a takeoff on the Lexus commercial in which a pretentious, bearded guy in deep thought takes his hands off the wheel and announces with stunned clarity to his empty car, “I used to have to park myself.” Part of the first campaign for Audi from new agency Venables Bell & Partners, it’s a quick, aggressive response that will get attention. Defensive, yes. It’s a little like a Joe Pesci-type guy putting up his dukes (We don’t need no stinkin’ parking-assistance technology!) Still, the spot is surprising and funny.

Altogether, the campaign’s first four spots—two are 30 seconds, and two 15-second teasers—are based loosely on the concepts of speed and a brash ‘tude. It’s a bit all over the place, but engaging.

Before the alpha-male, “smell-my-rubber-Lexus!” attack, the agency released the two 15-second teaser spots for the Audi TT. Sped-up spots engineered to drive viewers to the TT microsite and to rewind their DVRs, they definitely get the “What was that?” award. The first, “0.2 Seconds,” alludes to the teeny amount of time it takes to downshift the car’s “meaner, faster, dual-clutch gearbox.” The second, “Moment,” asks the viewer, “Do you have a moment?” before showing a series of images at lightning speed, ending with “Missed it?” and “Rewind.”

(Certainly, these are not the first TV spots to make friends with DVR and TiVo technology. GE did a terrific job with “One Second Theater” and even KFC had a special savings deal embedded in a commercial, although the spot otherwise looked right out of 1978. In terms of taking a subliminal approach, Crispin’s “SubLYMONal” campaign for Sprite was similar. It came with clues that gave people the chance to “unlock” special prizes on a Web site.)

So here’s my question: If you TiVo your favorite shows only so you can fast-forward through the commercials and then you fast-forward through a commercial that has images that are already sped-up, do your eyeballs explode?

Oddly enough, the two teaser spots work best in real time. They exude an intriguing, visceral hyper-reality. You wonder what you’re missing; the gear-shifting sounds are almost Pavlovian in suggesting an exciting ride, and the car looks cool.

People with DVRs who catch them on regular TV can rewind—but I doubt people who are fast-forwarding to begin with will even find them. Plus, might not the creatives be a little full of themselves, expecting people to rewind? (Although DVR users do love to be in the know.) Regardless, the spots were also distributed to automotive blogs, so the rewound images are easily found on YouTube and other places.

I have to say that, especially with “Moment,” seeing the actual guts of the spot is sort of a letdown. The images aren’t that compelling. Most look like the cuts in those brand videos (upgraded PowerPoint presentations) that seem to be masquerading as actual ads these days. While it opens promisingly—with an image of an egg being fertilized (suggesting subliminal in that S-E-X way)—it’s followed by a shot of a slot machine hitting the jackpot, as if that’s anything an elevated human type who’d buy an Audi would aspire to. There’s also a weird image of a coconut birthday cake that looks like something for a Muppet.

“O.2 Seconds” has a better payoff because it shows all the things that can, or can’t, be done while waiting for the gears of any other sports car to shift (like taking hairpin turns). It actually has a clear, smart selling point nestled inside the gimmicky, ambitious wrapping.

The other 30-second spot, “Split Seconds,” a safety message for the Audi brand, takes its own 180. Earnest and serious people talk to the camera, saying mind-bogglers like, “Today, I will get in a car accident.” It’s pretty shocking. The final cut features a dad waiting for his two kids to get into the car. They scamper in and he says,”Right at the end of the street, I will get hit by someone who runs a light.”

The title card reads, “You never expect it. But we do.” Then the voiceover says, “Engineering safety with every car we build.” It’s pretty gripping. The irony is that the tone reminds me of Mr. Pretentious Lexus guy in need of parking assistance.

The new tagline, “Truth in engineering,” is a bit flat and Teutonic. But altogether, the work certainly gets Audi back into the conversation. V-room!