That Audi understands marketing effectiveness should come as little surprise. The brand picked up the IPA Effectiveness Grand Prix at last year’s awards for its ‘beauty and brains’ strategy, created with BBH, which focused on both the design of its cars and technical innovations, and generated an estimated £1.78bn in incremental value for the brand between 2015 and 2017.
Key to that success has been understanding the effectiveness of creativity, not just media spend. Before Audi airs ads it tests them to see how the creative and messaging impacts sales and orders. It has found that when an ad has real cut-through, it is three times more efficient at driving orders.
“The creativity is a really key component, from a business point of view,” Anna Russell, national brand and retail marketing lead at Audi, tells Marketing Week. “Whatever the business case may be, there’s our product planning team and our sales team, but we then model what media spend we should do and what we need to do from a creative point of view to make sure we have something that is truly unique. If we hit that spot we sell more cars.”
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To do that, Audi uses econometrics, which it implemented in 2016, working with agency Neustar MarketShare, although all its agencies have access to the data. Russell claims the method is “spookily accurate”.
In 2017, the company saw volume sales increase from 166,000 to 172,000 and Audi was able to model not only how much it needed to spend on marketing to achieve that uplift, but also how many of each model. When it then saw another volume increase, econometrics was accurate to within 32 car sales.
“It’s really impressive. I’ve got one slide that shows the different modelling and exactly where we netted out in the year. It’s pretty powerful.”
Russell cautions, however, about getting too caught up in the data and trying to replicate past successes too closely. “The whole thing with modelling is it’s retrospective, it’s only built on the data you have. If you’re going to be creative and cutting edge, by definition you have to do something new.”
Bringing the Audi brand to performance marketing
That impact on creativity has also been tested further down the marketing funnel, with Russell admitting some of its more tactical advertising was failing to deliver.
“It’s well-known we do very good above-the-line campaigns but we looked at our [tactical work] and thought, hand-on-heart, could we say we’re defying category conventions? No, we couldn’t. And does it have the sizzle and panache of our above-the-line? No, it doesn’t. So we did a project to put a new framework together,” she explains.
That framework was first tested on the Black Edition model last year. Audi created a campaign with BBH and worked with media agency PHD to buy fewer, bigger digital placements.
The impact was notable. Audi saw a 136% increase in people using its car configuration tool and its order bank doubled.
“It proved, even for the lower funnel stuff, treat it the same as the brand work. It’s still Audi; just because you’re lower in the funnel it still should be a good brand experience,” says Russell.
Audi has also been testing how to make other online channels more effective. Working with Google, it was able to track how many people who watched a targeted ad for the A1 on video-on-demand then went into an Audi showroom. It found that 6,388 people who finished watching the ad visited a showroom, right down to knowing that 43 went to Southend, 32 to Edinburgh, etc at a cost of £2.37.
“The biggest challenge is how you get dynamic creative to look good,” she adds. “We put in pretty ingredients but that’s definitely an area we can push more.”
Audi is also looking to make its own digital experience more compelling. It has appointed IBM iX and BBH to overhaul its digital platforms, including the audi.co.uk website. While IBM iX will assume responsibility for the digital transformation, BBH is tasked with reimagining its digital touchpoints.
Ian Heartfield, chief creative office at BBH, explains: “You need to think of every piece of communication as a touchpoint with the brand. The digital win is about applying all the brand values this place invented and applying them to all touchpoints.
“Before the digital win, all the blood, sweat, tears, energy, effort and money went into the [major marketing campaign], and you would go to the website and see a little thumbnail of cars on a white background – it’s not the same. Treating every touchpoint as a place where a brand has to be at its best is the way we have to do it.”
Audi’s creative ingredients
Creativity in its ad campaigns is also important. This weekend (16 March), the car marque launched a new campaign for its smaller models – the Audi A1 and A7 – which shows them performing a perfectly synchronised driving routine in an empty swimming pool.
It includes a number of what Heartfield calls Audi’s creative “ingredients”, including wit without being comedic, putting the product at the heart of the story and not showing the driver.
“One of [our mantras] is ‘dare to be different’ and cut across the category. You won’t see an Audi ad with someone driving through a cityscape and then pulling up to an overlook and then pulling away through a wooded park. We deliberately avoid those clichés,” says Russell.
“[And you won’t see the driver]. It’s quite a democratic thing, you don’t want to stereotype. The minute you show a driver, or certainly a lifestyle, this becomes the Audi lifestyle but this doesn’t feel like a very progressive way to act. You are welcome into the brand whoever you are.”
Music has also become a key part of Audi’s comms, and this campaign is no different. It is set to a cover of the Genesis track ‘Follow Me, Follow You’, by up-and-coming artist Rina Oshunga, with the aim being to bring back iconic tracks and give them a new lease of life so they provoke recognition and nostalgia but also pique the listener’s interest. Music is also key to effectiveness, with research Audi conducted with Millward Brown finding that ads with distinctive tracks are “way more effective”, seeing an uplift of around 25% in terms of emotion.
The car market in the UK struggled in 2018, with sales down 6.8% year on year to 2.54 million, according to SMMT. Audi’s performance also struggled, with sales down 17.85% to 143,739. However, it has 21 launches this year, with a focus on small cars, SUVs and electric vehicles – all of which are outperforming the market.
This campaign aims to show just because the A1 or A7 are small Audi cars, owners aren’t compromising on design, performance or technology. “The category tends to advertise small cars in this small, playful, slightly frivolous way when actually this is a really serious purchasing decision,” says Russell. “We wanted to bring to the fore the fact our small cars are very bit as good as our big cars.”