Audi Warms Up to Southern Market

DETROIT Audi will address the U.S. market next year with an enhanced emphasis on Sun Belt markets as it retools its marketing approach with a more splashy and brash mandate.

The German automaker’s newly revealed Southern strategy aims at booming cities such as Miami, Phoenix and Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., all of which are economically sound and fueled by solid construction and business climates.

“Audi has had its roots in the Northeast and the foul-weather regions and that is where we have seen great sales,” said Scott Keogh, the company’s chief marketing officer. “But we are going to where America is heading.”

This year, Audi has seen dramatic gains in its sales in larger Southern cities. In Miami, sales have jumped nearly 40 percent; in Dallas the figure is 25 percent and in Atlanta, 15 percent, Keogh said.

That direction also means a more flamboyant marketing angle, Keogh said, to complement Audi’s expanding line of models. Between 2005 and next year, Audi will have introduced 19 new products, including its first SUV, the Q7 and an all-new TT coupe.

He pointed to the North American debut of the R8 sportster in October for a glance at what Audi is looking for in its new marketing direction. Timed to coincide with the opening of the Audi Forum retail outlet on Park Avenue in Manhattan, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg drove the car down Park Avenue to the store in a flurry of PR bombast in a ceremony befitting a dignitary.

Audi will be cast as a lifestyle achievement and aspiration rather than a triumph of German engineering, a move similar to what BMW has done in the last two years. Audi is just now beginning to be recognized as a true luxury marque and now represents to Volkswagen what Lexus does to Toyota—a step up in brands within the same family.

“Only in the last few years has Audi been accepted as a player that might be equal to BMW or Mercedes,” said John Bulcroft, an auto consultant and former Audi marketing chief in the 1970s. “And I think the market could absorb Audi sales of well over 100,000 units.”

With projected sales this year of 90,000, the goal now is to become a more American brand, sponsoring upscale events such as fashion shows and more brand ads, in addition to targeted spots in the Sun Belt region.

Which is what was included in the RFP Audi sent out in early fall as it began a review for its $100 million account. Its current agency, Havas’ McKinney in Durham, N.C., is in the running, along with Publicis Groupe-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York and independent Venables, Bell & Partners in San Francisco.

A decision will be rendered “later this month, or early next year at the Detroit auto show,” Keogh said. Audi has spent $55 million on ads through September, after spending $105 million in 2005, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.