Audi goes vroom at the Emmys.

If you watched the 2017 Emmy Awards this past weekend on CBS, you got a real sense of what the Television Academy was interested in this year. (And apparently, it wasn’t ratings.) But you also got some interesting advertising from Audi.

Audi ran three spots (multiple times) throughout the evening under the theme of “celebrating performance.”  Take a look:
Cheers

Star Trek

Mary Tyler Moore

In the spots, three Audis (the 2018 SQ5 SUV, the 2018 TT RS coupe and the 2018 R8 sports car, which starts at $164,900,) accompany a small orchestra playing classic TV theme songs. Pretty good idea, considering that the Emmy audience is likely made up of people who love television, so the spots create immediate context.

Here’s the text that Audi posted on YouTube along with the “Cheers” spot:

Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. Other times you wanna use three Audi vehicles to perform TV theme songs. This is one of three pieces performed by the Audi Orchestra on Emmys night 2017. A demonstration of Audi’s unrivaled technology in honor of some of TV’s greatest shows. Orchestra members include the R8, SQ5, and TT RS. All songs are performed in the key of quattro.

Progress is celebrating performance.

Hmmm. The Audi Orchestra. Television theme songs being played by vroom-vroom-vroom-ing. Can you identify the value that brings to the average consumer? Neither can I.

Let’s start with what’s good about these spots. First, they’re beautifully executed, beautifully filmed. We get a nice motion cam beauty shot of the rear-mount V10 engine on the R8, some cool in-and-outs on the high-speed-spinning rims, and gorgeous pullouts of the soundstage. Really nice. Venables, Bell and Partners have done some incredibly impressive work for Audi over the last several years, including their Super Bowl spots, which have been sweeping cinematic victories.

Oh, and they show the new cars. That’s always a good thing.

But that’s about it. From a strategic perspective, these spots would get rejected in advertising school for several reasons:

1. They’re self-congratulatory. While it’s important to tout your features, it’s best to do it in a way that helps consumers understand what those features do FOR THEM. Not for some contextualized television experiment.

2. They’re wading into positioning territory that’s blurry. Remember, when a consumer shops a category, the position of all players in the category matter. BMW, whether Audi likes it or not, owns the concept of “performance” in the mind of the consumer. Trying to wrestle that free is dangerous at least, and a colossal waste of money at worst.

3. There’s no VALUE created for the consumer. Ok, great. A limited production vehicle that starts at $165,000 goes “vroom.” What else does it come with?

Look, I’m not saying you can’t do daring, or beautiful, or interesting, or arty work in advertising. You totally can. Even if it doesn’t necessarily sell. (Sorry, Uncle David.) But if it doesn’t differentiate the brand in some meaningful (to the consumer) way? Don’t bother. At the end of the day, any car can go “vroom.” Even my mom’s Nissan Altima does that. And for about $135,000 less than your shiny orchestra piece.

The real test of any advertising is to discern whether or not you come away with any sense of VALUE. Even your basic tire dealer spot that runs on the local cable network in anytown USA is going to leave you with a basic idea like “oh, cool. I buy three tires and get the fourth one free.” That’s value. Or if it’s not an offer-based spot, you might say, “oh, cool, that little thingy there keeps my food fresh for an extra two hours.” That’s feature-based value. But I watch these spots over and over, and can’t imagine anyone saying, “oh, cool. I can vroom-vroom around town to the tune of ‘You Really Got Me’ with these really nice import cars.”

At least we have Audi’s Super Bowl spots to look forward to.

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Super Bowl 2014: Grins and Groans

First off, condolences to the Denver Broncos organization and their fans. That’s what we call a rough day at the office. And for those of you who are fans of Super Bowl advertising, it was kind of a rough night on the couch. Again.

Last year, we had a few “wows” interrupted by a lot of mediocre. Sadly, that trend continued through 2014. And at $133,000 per SECOND, that can mean some rough Mondays for some advertising executives.

SINGLE GRINS:
Radio Shack – good for them for poking fun at themselves as they make their re-rebrand statement. (Remember “The Shack” attempt from a few years back?) Best tweet of the night I read said something like “Radio Shack had to close 10 of their 12 stores to pay for that spot.” At least they’re trying.

Heinz – after sitting on the sidelines (yes, all puns intended,) for 16 years, Heinz returns with a feel-good spot to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it…” Solid, simple, reminder advertising. The right message for a brand that already owns the category.

Wonderful Pistachios – for a brand that is trying to make hay in a highly commoditized category, Wonderful Pistachios made a strong statement for themselves with two :15s wrapped around the H&M David Beckham spot. They did a great job of getting out of the way, and letting Colbert be Colbert. Especially poking fun at themselves about a “lack of branding.” Really fun, really light, and memorably goofy.

DOUBLE GRINS:
T-Mobile’s Tim Tebow spots were absolutely hilarious, and I thought the most on-target/on-focus advertising of the night. Perfect symmetry between his situation (a national figure without a contract) and their basic brand position (mobile network service with no contract necessary.) He’s a good sport (yep, another pun) for poking fun at himself, the ads had high production and camp value, and I think this was a touchdown. (Ugh, that was shameless.)

Doritos brought high value humor to a crop of commercials that were otherwise meh. Add the fact that the spots were created by contest entrants, and you add a level of intrigue. Congratulations to Ryan Thomas Anderson for the winning entry and the $1 million prize. A second level of kudos to Doritos for matching good advertising with strong social activation, and (you may have missed this) an absolutely cool in-stadium activation: recordSetter got 30 people to don orange ponchos to create “the world’s largest human Dorito.” Pretty effing cool.

BIGGEST GRIN:
Chrysler 200 with Bob Dylan
So this was one of the (very few) spots that was not leaked or teased prior to the game, and it really paid off. Chrysler has embraced Detroit/Americana as a stand-in for the brand, and they have wrapped a powerful message around it. (Remember Clint Eastwood’s “halftime in America” ad? And the Paul Harvey “God made a farmer ad from last year for Dodge?” Yeah, same idea.)

They encapsulate this idea in the statement “Detroit made cars. And cars made America.” Overly patriotic? Sure. A tad pandering? Maybe. But powerful advertising? You bet your ass.

The best part is the finale of the 2:00 triumph, (delivered incredibly by a surprisingly articulate and pointed Bob Dylan,) with this: “Let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watches. Let Asia assemble your phones.” Dramatic pause. Cut to Dylan in a pool hall talking directly into camera. “We. Will build. Your car.” Touchdown. Two point conversion. Game over. (Yeah. I went there.)

And now for the GROANS.

WTF GROAN:
Maserati introduces its new Ghibli sedan to America with an overly produced spot about “unleashing monsters” or something. Sure, I get that you can make a “big splash” with a Super Bowl ad…but wasn’t there ANYONE in the room saying “this might not be the best media buy?” And who named “Ghibli?”  If you’re going to introduce a “more approachable” brand extension (the Ghibli starts around $67,000) to an otherwise unattainable line, shouldn’t the spot be more, um, approachable?

SLOW GROANS:
Kia takes a target demographic couple on a spin through the Matrix with Laurence Fishburne in full Morpheus mode. Um, what? Or, rather, why?

Bud Light – Now here’s an instance where the social media leadup was better than the ads themselves. Bud Light’s three and a half minute brand film around the “up for whatever theme” was great. The two spots that got edited out of it…a little disjointed.

Beats Music Service introduces its “we’re better than Pandora” intuitive music service. Sounds like a cool idea. They made a nice spot, riffing on the Goldilocks folktale. Except they chose Ellen DeGeneres. Hmmm…is SHE the target? (Highly doubtful.) Is she RIGHT as being appealing to what we would imagine the target to be? (Still no.) So…why Ellen?

BIGGEST GROAN:
AUDI just completely missed the mark this year with “Doberhuahua.” After such an incredible showing last year with their “prom” spot, they go for the dopey CGI-laden humor trick of a Doberman cross-bred with a Chihuahua. They took their potshots at sappiness with knocks at kennel shows and Sarah McLachlan, and tried to wrap this around the idea that “compromise is scary.” It is. Especially in advertising.

End notes: Other hits and misses…
GoDaddy tried to capitalize on the “real time marketing” concept with a spot where a woman (Gwen) quits her job on live television. Interesting. And better than that gross makeout spot they ran last year. Wheeeew!

H&M’s ad with David Beckham was the first to be truly interactive…for a limited few. Turns out, if you have a Samsung SmartTV, you could have ordered product live through your television. Great strategy for the 327 people who actually own that tv.

Volkswagen’s “Wings” ad starts out as a really smart quality claim. Dad tells daughter that every time a Volkswagen hits 100,000 miles, a Volkswagen engineer gets his wings. Cut to German factory, where white-lab-coat-wearing engineers start sprouting wings. Funny concept, well executed. Major problem with this spot: NO FEMALE ENGINEERS. Not a one. Except that young lady in the elevator who slaps the other engineer. Wrong message to send to the world’s young girls, Volkswagen.

Until next year – keep grinning!

This article first appeared on Technorati.

What were YOUR favorite spots? Post in the comments below.

Pardon Me, May I Borrow Some Equity?

From a marketing perspective, Audi is having a strong first half of 2013. They started with this spectacular Super Bowl Spot, which I also covered in my Super Bowl Advertising Roundup.

As you can see, this spot is really strong advertising, very well executed, and by most accounts, very well received. Kudos to the team at Venables Bell & Partners for 60 seconds of fine storytelling, excellently produced.

What I really admire is the borrowed equity. Audi uses the (classic) high school prom and all its teenage-I-don’t-really-fit-in-and-I’m-secretly-in-love-with-that-girl angst as the thrust agent to propel the underlying storyline. There’s so much being said, without actually being said, that provides backdrop and motivation to the spot. In virtually any other scenario, you’d have to spend a lot of valuable airtime to establish that emotional context. Borrow some “prom” equity, and it’s built in. Smart.

Now, Audi releases another gem, a viral video called “The Challenge.” It’s a two minute and 44 second short featuring Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy. For the four of you who can’t make that connection, they both share the role of Spock from the Star Trek fiction series, and this video is released just weeks before the next installment of the blockbuster film franchise “Into Darkness” is released nationwide. [Interestingly, and clearly not coincidentally, Audi is NOT the “official auto partner” of Star Trek. It’s Mazda. And they’ve gotta be pissed over there in Anaheim.] Take a look.

Again, aside from the fact that this is a really good piece of content, with a couple of really good laughs around the old man vs young turk struggle, it’s the Trekkie/Nimoy references buried in the action, the Star-Trek-ism of it all that fuels the comedic undertone. It’s geeky, and quirky, and you’re almost waiting for Sheldon from “Big Bang Theory” to make a cameo. By the way, did you notice that shameless kick in the crotch that Audi levels on Mercedes-Benz? OUCH.

In the short, there are plenty of jokes, and Nimoy even reprises his old Bilbo Baggins vocalizing as part of it. It’s camp. It’s fun. It’s for FANS. It’s content dissemination that’s approaching four million views as of this writing. Yeah. FOUR MILLION.

In both cases, Audi was smart and crafty enough to pull some strong messaging together and dress it up with sexy shots of the latest A7 vehicle. But they go a step further and deliver those messages to consumers in powerful emotional packages that ALREADY have trust and memory and gravity built in. It is indeed “fascinating,” and I, for one, can’t wait to see what they do the rest of this year.

Live long and prosper.

[This article first appeared on Technorati.]

Super Bowl 2013: Grins and Groans

Super Bowl 47 is in the books, and with it, so is another chapter in advertising history. Football fans got what they wanted – a very exciting game that came right down to the end, with strategy, comebacks and even a second half blackout to make it interesting.

Advertising fans, not so much. The advertising was generally blah. No real game-changers this year. Just a lot of bland messages delivered in neat packages. Not including a ZILLION CBS promos, there were nearly 70 commercial airings between the National Anthem and the final play of the game. So here are my GRINS and GROANS for Super Bowl 2013.

SINGLE GRINS:

M&M’s doing a funny riff on Meatloaf’s “I Would do Anything for Love”;
Oreo’s “Library” whisper-romp;
GoDaddy’s “don’t wait to register”;
Sodastream’s “bottle savers”;

DOUBLE GRIN:
I loved the Tide “Miracle Montana” spot. Well thought, well executed, and well played by the wife character (who happens to be a Ravens fan, duh) in the spot. Smartly executed. Would have loved to have seen it in the first half, though.

BIGGEST GRIN:
Has to go to Audi for its “prom” spot*. It was one of the very few spots that drew the viewer in with a real narrative tone and you couldn’t help but rooting for the main character. In the spot, we learn of a young man who is clearly depressed about having to go to the prom by himself. But Dad intervenes, throws him the keys to the new Audi, and the kid starts to feel his oats. He races a limo off the line at a traffic light; he parks in the principal’s spot at school, and he walks right up to the prom queen and plants the I’ve-loved-you-since-6th-grade kiss on her. But he pays for all that courage. The final scene: same boy, driving home, black eye: Best. Prom. Ever. The spot ends with the tagline “Bravery. It’s what defines us.” See it here:


* BUT WAIT. There’s an asterisk. Here’s a note on why Audi’s minute-long love story is not a perfect message, especially considering the mostly male 20-something audience. While I appreciate the courage it takes to finally let your feelings be known to the girl of your dreams, it does NOT excuse the behavior of this boy. Kissing a girl without her permission is simply NOT okay, (even if she secretly liked it.) I love seeing a hero, especially in advertising. But NOT at the expense of a young woman’s privacy and dignity. So it makes sense that he gets socked in the eye. But societal norms, or better judgment, or an ad agency that should have known better, should have PREVENTED that scene from happening, instead of him being punished by a jealous prom king boyfriend. If this spot were politically correct, he would have gone stag to the prom, exchanged some nervous glances with the prom queen, and then perhaps they could have met at the punch bowl for a MUTUAL confession of their affections. I would much rather see him drive home with her phone number scribbled on a napkin…the promise of a future rather than the finality of a blaze of glory. The promise is what most of us can relate to. The hope. The hope against hope. The what’s-next-in-this-crazy-story anticipation. And heck, I’d rather do all that waiting in a nice Audi. Too bad – they went Hollywood and did a less-than-perfect spot. But, gosh, it was still really, really good advertising – using storytelling wisely.

And now the GROANS.

The WTF GROAN: I just don’t even get it.
Ram’s “Paul Harvey/Farmer” spot. Wow, what a wonderful sentiment. Wow, what a terrible waste of money for a car marketer.

SLOW GROANS
Taco Bell’s “retirees’; a long way to go and too far-fetched for fast food
Beck’s Sapphire “singing fish”; NOT the bom-diggity it was intended to be
Mercedes “devil”; just seemed like a waste of talent, all those teases and airtime.

BIGGEST GROAN
GoDaddy’s “kiss” spot. Besides being gross, it (again) decided to denigrate women in the process of making a point about style and substance. UGH! At least throw us a curve ball and make Bar Rafaeli the IT girl. Jeez!

What did YOU think of the Super Bowl spots? I’d love to hear!

This article first appeared on Technorati.

Super Bowl Advertising on AUTO-Pilot?


For the most part, the super bowl spots this year were, well, less than super. No really big ideas. No breaking of any molds. No we’ll-be-talking-about-this-in-20-years executions. It’s not that they were bad. They just weren’t memorable. And in the world of advertising, if you can’t do memorable, you can’t do anything.

Let’s spare the knocks and gaffes. We all know what those were. (A kid peeing in a pool for a free online tax service? Really?) Instead, I’ll focus on the few standouts in the automotive category and see if we can highlight some themes to remember if and when you ever have the chance to put your brand on the grandest stage of all.

For my money, GM wins the night with their “2012” post-apocalyptic survival spot for Silverado. A Silverado pulls out of the gray rubble of the aftermath with every cliché in tow: a rugged middle-aged man, his trusty dog and, of course, Barry Manilow crooning “Looks Like We Made It.” Even the Transformers (yup, that’s Bumblebee’s head laying on the side of the road,) and the alien ships couldn’t outwit the Mayan foreshadowing. But Silverado did.

And in the gutsiest move of the night, GM takes on the competition by name. The main character meets up with three other Silverado drivers and asks, “Where’s Dave?” A saddened friend reports the dreary news: “Dave didn’t drive the longest-lasting, most dependable truck on the road…Dave drove a Ford.” Home run. Say goodnight Gracie. That’s all she wrote. Best spot of Super Bowl R2D2. Take on the competition by name, and kick ‘em in the ding-ding. Then share a Twinkie.  Wow.

In general, cars made the best showing as a category, but also seemed to demonstrate the weirdest strategies. Audi (with agency Venables + Bell) spent $7 million on the 2-minute “Vampire Party,” which is a neat little spot that goes a LONG way to make a point about their LED headlights, which apparently recreate daylight so well they fry vampires. I love advertising that’s singular and focused and creatively makes a point about a particular feature. So points for telling us SOMETHING about the car. (More than others can say.) But on the Super Bowl? Let’s keep it brand-ey, okay?

Fiat: fantasy about a gorgeous Italian woman with all the soft-porn of latte foam. Chevy: “stunt drivers” thing was kind of done already by Nissan earlier this year. Cadillac: let’s take on BMW on the positioning they’ve owned for more than 25 years. We know the creatives came out to play, but where was the CMO in all of these executions?

Clint Eastwood enlisted to do a tug-at-your-heartstrings-but-watch-out-cuz-I-can-also-kick-your-ass sendup for Chrysler. Okay, this is exactly the kind of thing Americans who are feeling patriotic and puffed up want to hear. And the spot is well done, and turns last year’s coming-out party into an extended affair. All good. But I think we’ve all come to expect more from Wieden + Kennedy than a reboot of the 1984 Hal Riney “Morning in America” classic.

VW also took the let’s-build-on-last-year strategy with “Dog Strikes Back,” a touching anthropomorphic vignette of a dog who’s lost his mojo. The dog can hardly chase a car anymore because he’s gotten too complacent. So he embarks on a disciplined workout regimen, resists the temptation of mom’s table scraps and gets back into fighting shape so he can hustle out the door and chase that flashy new VW Beetle down the road. Really good work from Deutsch. Nice little tag on the end to connect the dots to last year’s “Vader” spot for Passat. Another winner for 2012.

One thumb up to Hyundai for a number of reasons. They’re feeling their oats these days (and they should – their sales are killing,) so they decide to invest in some Super Bowl branding. The “cheetah” spot and the “think fast” spot (both from Innocean) weren’t feats of advertising genius, but they were solid entries into a pretty crowded field of automotive advertising. Compared to Toyota and Lexus, they were smarter. Not as funny as Honda’s “Ferris Bueller” or “Seinfeld,” but probably did more to educate viewers about the brand. And by the way, where was Ford, the company that bragged all year about not needing a bailout?

This article first appeared on Technorati.