Move Them: How Audi Jumpstarted a Revolution


Move Them: How Audi Jumpstarted a Revolution

Begin scene: It’s dawn. Sunlight whispers through the windows in the living room of a traditional Victorian home. Cue music: Piano keys begin to chime and sway with the camera as it pans around the room. As it moves, the cherry hardwood floors are stripped away panel by panel, exposing a shiny white foundation. Aged candle holders disappear as Jonathan Adler-like pottery take their place. Antique chairs vanish, quickly replaced by MoMA-esque seating. Hard, overbearing walls turn to glass, revealing the blossoming trees outside. Even Fido, the refined Briard sitting by the fireplace, morphs into a dominant and athletic Old English Mastiff. Cue drums: An impressive Bose stereo system appears, as does a bicycle under the staircase. The dark and dated room has suddenly become illuminated and contemporary.

After panning 360 degrees, the camera pauses, then turns back outside. A silver Mercedes Benz sits patiently in the driveway until—poof—a sleek, black Audi A4 assumes its position. The screen turns black with the exception of three words in white: “Progress is beautiful”.

Cue female’s voice singing: The car drives down a suburban street, swathed in dappled light. The camera glides over the interior’s features: chrome, wood, glass, clean lines. End scene.

Hello, Audi. This is the new luxury.

In 2008, Audi sold over 1 million vehicles globally with a 4.3% increase from the previous year, their 13th record year in a row. Their newest model, the Audi R8, was named as 2008 World Performance Car and 2008 World Car Design of the Year (won last year by the Audi RS 4 and Audi TT). Their success has flourished despite the global financial crisis and Audi is now the most successful manufacturer ever at the World Car of the Year Awards.

But those are just statistics. What it comes down to is this: Audi makes beautifully striking cars. Quick, fuel-efficient, roomy, these vehicles represent innovative luxury. The people who make Audi love their cars as much as those who drive them. So, in an effort to share the love, Audi of America launched a new multimedia ad campaign in 2007. (You may have heard the tagline, “Truth in Engineering”.) And it’s working.

Why? With such a delectable medley of luxury vehicles on the road, including the firmly established BMW and Mercedes Benz, how did Audi spawn this recent revolution? Scott Keogh, Chief Marketing Officer at Audi of America, believes that today’s buyers are seeking honesty, authenticity, and substance. These are attributes which allow the owner to engage with their newly adopted product of choice. And in the automotive realm, there’s nothing more stimulating than a purring engine, ready and willing, at your command.

Added to this knowledge is the understanding of Audi’s customers. They are “among the most highly-educated and technologically adept in the world,” says Keogh. Therefore, campaigning targeted those who read the newspaper daily, are frequently online, etc. In 2008, Audi upped the ante by providing over 1,000 vehicles to the athletes, officials, and guests at the Beijing Olympics, making a name as their official premium automobile. To complement the royal spirit of athleticism, they provided a new tagline entitled, “Passion for Movement”. Keeping parallel structure, Audi tweaks their motto to enhance the emotional response of its audience, whatever audience that may be (in this case, extremely dedicated athletes). To the broader Audi followers, they assure reliance and intelligence through “truth in engineering”. To ardent sports fans, they assure their empathy for athleticism.

But don’t these words express so much more? Truth, engineering, passion, movement. These are trigger words—buzzwords, if you will. Just reading the word has sparked in your mind a slew of rich imagery. Words themselves are entirely symbolic, a series of letters which represent, well, anything. We are constantly experiencing a continuous flow of visual information, but certain words capture our attention. Certain words draw images to mind and generate physical emotion.

In 2007, a group of researchers from Germany and Switzerland set out to study the early cortical responses to emotional words during reading. The significance being that if enhanced processing occurs when reading emotional words, as opposed to neutral words, a physiological impact will result. To determine this, electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes were attached to subjects who were instructed to read 10 runs of words presented in two blocks (fast, 333 ms per word, and slow, 1,000 ms per word). Each sequence contained 180 words, 60 of which were high-arousal and 60 of which were neutral. And what they found is that arousal levels for ‘pleasant’ and unpleasant’ words were significantly higher than arousal levels for neutral words. It sounds like common sense but in actuality, this is phenomenal. The simple act of reading an emotional word prompts a physical response.

With this in mind, how does the word truth make you feel? How about passion? Audi chose some loaded words to convey a message. What’s more impressive about this study is this: When the subjects were asked to write down as many of the words as they could remember after the viewing,the emotional words were recalled faster than neutral words. Clearly the emotional words made a lasting impression, and time is money in advertising.

Let’s go back to the “Progress is beautiful” scene. Before these words are even presented to us, we’ve had a series of images collect in our minds. We witness a home endure the progression of modernization and simultaneously, somewhat subconsciously, take note of what was, and what is. Materials change, generations change, and architecture changes. We are supplied with a rich amount of visual cues in a short amount of time. In fact, these cues spark within us, memories of similar past experiences. Nostalgia, family, and time are all conveyed without a single spoken word.

After the images collect and formulate into one, total feeling, the Audi appears. Thus, our mind tells us that it too must be part of the picture. Professor Sandra Moriarty at the Journalism and Mass Communication program of University of Colorado-Boulder, conducted an interpretive study of visual cues in advertising, explaining their effects. “Advertising, with its highly condensed message formats, uses a shortcut form of information processing. Through association, two thoughts—usually a product and a selling message—are connected in the mind,” says Moriarty. Audi includes itself in the precious realm of historical beauty.

She goes on to explain that symbolic meaning has an enormous effect in advertising. A word can act as a signifier, which represents a concept or idea. Therefore, after we generate intense feelings of our past and hopes of the future, Audi presents us with what naturally comes next: this remarkable car. Then, they tell you what you’ve witnessed: progress is beautiful. And Audi represents both progress and beauty.

Just like truth and passion, progress and beauty are emotional words. We’ve seen that they have a strong impact physically and that they can be associated with a product, but why are they so crucial to advertising? The Mercedes-Benz motto is “Das Besteoder Nichts” meaning “the best or nothing”. BMW uses “ultimate driving machine”. These are very appealing and catchy slogans. So why does Audi’s commercial strike a different, deeper, tone with us? Why are we compelled?

Well, contrary to popular belief, emotion precedes cognition. You feel before you think. So yes, the “ultimate driving machine” sounds nice. But when we read those words, we have to think of what it takes to build a machine. It’s all about metal, mechanics, and method. “The best or nothing” is vague, cliché, and let’s face it, snooty. These mottos take time and thought.

Advertising is about conveying a message in a short time. Seeing as emotion is automatic, what better way to capture attention? The audience instinctively responds. The ELM model’s central route tells us that high involvement circumstances are engaging, they affect our body and mind. And here is the best part: This affectiveness is a prime motivator in purchasing behavior.

No wonder Audi is booming. We love the car because we effortlessly associate it with tremendously powerful feelings. People don’t want a 1,000 pound hunk of metal, they want that purring engine. This car has got charm, a distinctively human trait packed with desirable emotions. It engages the potential buyer, creating interaction. Keogh knows this and has put it to good use. Take the right product, target it towards the right audience, and most importantly, give it the right emotional content. Then you’ve got a top-seller. If you want them, you’ve got to move them.

References (2009).Audi sells over one million cars in 2008.

Kissler, J., Herbert, C., Peyk, P., Junghofer, M. (2007). Buzzwords: Early Cortical Responses to Emotional Words During Reading.Psychological Science, Vol. 18, No. 6, 475-480.

Moriarty,Sandra. An Interpretive Study of Visual Cues in Advertising.

Royo-Vela, Marcelo. (2005). Emotional and Infromational Content of Commercials. Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Fall), 15. (2008).Audi R8 named 2008 World Performance Car and 2008 World Car Design of the Year. 03/20/081602.html

Zajonc, Robert B. (1980). Feeling and Thinking: Preferences need no inferences. American Psychologist, 35, 151-175.


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