- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2008

At a time when auto manufacturers around the globe are struggling, luxury carmaker Audi announced it would advertise in the Super Bowl for a second consecutive year. The company, whose U.S. operations are based in Herndon, has released few details about the commercial except that it’s a 60-second spot that will appear during the first quarter of the game. Audi plans to offer a sneak preview to anyone who registers on its Web site.

Scott Keogh, chief marketing officer for Audi of America, spoke with The Washington Times, and here is an edited transcript of that interview.

Q: When you look at the auto sector, most companies are cutting back on their ad spending. Yet here you are buying a Super Bowl ad. What is it that has allowed you to do this?

A: When we did the Super Bowl last year, we had astounding success. By that, we mean the traffic to our Web site went up about 200 percent. By all the online metrics, we were the second-hottest brand in terms of buzz, and this would include giant competitors, including Budweiser and Pepsi and so forth, that ran seven to eight spots. And the other thing is when you look at the Audi brand today in America and where it sits, we have record levels of awareness, record levels of opinion and record levels of consideration. So really the brand has never been stronger. And the second important thing was that we didn’t want to be just like the dot-comers that just pop in, do something and walk away.

If you look at our sales to date, we’re probably off about three or four points on a sales front, but we’ve gained two points of market share. We want to build off that momentum, and it’s the kind of business where once you lay off the gas pedal and decide to go into hibernation, it’s very difficult to build it back up again.

Q: We know a lot of advertisers see the Super Bowl as an opportunity to get creative. What can we expect from your ad this year?

A: First and foremost, the spot will be entertaining and a very provocative spot. Beyond that, we don’t want to say too much more, but we have no doubts that we will keep the high creative and entertaining bar we set last year and we’ll continue to raise that.

Q: Are you doing a Super Bowl ad because it’s the most-watched program of the year, or is it simply because you see the sports world as a good place to put your money right now?

A: Obviously you have an extremely large audience watching the Super Bowl. But beyond the media buy - and this is what surprised us - is that it energizes the entire franchise. It energizes the dealers, all the service personnel, all of the employees. It’s a very powerful thing to walk into a service bay at a dealer in Iowa or St. Louis or anywhere, and they know your marketing activity, and they ask, “Are you going to do it again?”

I think the other thing is the press that comes around that. You can spend tens of millions of dollars running advertising on various cable networks and wherever you buy your media. But you just do not get the press excitement you get from around the Super Bowl. And we had a staggering number like 500 [million] or 600 million media impressions from the Super Bowl spot that we ran.

Now the fact that it’s football and it’s sports, we like that as well. We did the Super Bowl this year and purchased a big Sunday night package because, frankly, we feel very good about football. We want to be at the place where people are watching, and right now football is the place.

Q: Do you see an opportunity here because of the struggles of some of the other automakers? Are you in a position where you can jump in and take advantage?

A: Look, no one’s kidding themselves. This is a very difficult market all around. But if the entire market is growing and moving forward, it’s tough to make the big gains. And we do feel that with the market deaccelerating and a lot of people hitting the brakes, it’s a great opportunity to make those gains. There are some opportunities that you probably haven’t seen in 15 to 20 years where if you’re looking over this horizon over a five- to seven-year period, it’s a smart time to be in the market and it’s a smart time to be investing in your brand.

Q: What are your expectations for this year, given the fact that last year was the most-watched Super Bowl in history?

A: I feel very confident that we’ll have a competitive game, and even if you look at Super Bowls that are less successful, you’re talking about a few million people. I think it draws a proper audience. Regardless of what teams get in the Super Bowl, it’s the Super Bowl, and that’s what we feel good about.

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