Audi of America, Inc.

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Audi of America, Inc.

3800 Hamlin Road
Auburn Hills, Michigan 48326
Telephone: (248) 754-5000
Web site:



The car maker Audi of America, Inc. (AoA), was the American arm of the German company Audi AG. The Michigan-based automaker's advertising changed drastically in fall 2004 when Stephen Berkov took control as marketing director. The first vehicle launched under Berkov's supervision was the new Audi A3, a luxury wagon that AoA planed to release in mid-2005. Berkov defined the A3's target market as 25- to 34-year-old upper-income males. Aware that this target disliked mainstream advertisements, Berkov oversaw the release of an atypical campaign titled "Art of the Heist."

Created by the ad agency McKinney & Silver and the production firm Chelsea Pictures/Campfire, "Art of the Heist" employed audience participation via the Internet and outside events to shape the campaign's narrative. Ad critics used the gaming phrase "alternate-reality game" (ARG) to describe the campaign's blend of reality, fiction, and audience participation. The $3 million to $4 million campaign began on March 31, 2005, three months before the A3 was available. The campaign first surfaced when an Audi A3 was reportedly "stolen" from the rotating display at the New York Auto Show. For the next three months McKinney & Silver used real events, along with integrated television, print, and online advertising, to tell the story of a thwarted art heist. The campaign's narrative featured the characters Nisha Roberts and Ian Yarbrough driving across America in an Audi A3 while being chased by hit men. The "Heist" actors made public appearances at the popular Coachella Music Festival and on the music TV channel VH1. Television spots and magazine ads posed as real alerts about the stolen A3 until the campaign ended in late June 2005.

Advertising critics credited "Art of the Heist" with being the auto industry's first ARG campaign. It garnered the Best in Show award at the 2005 MIXX Awards, an advertising-industry event sponsored by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Adweek magazine. In 2005 sales of A3s surpassed AoA's original expectations. During May 2005 the automaker's website also registered 30 percent more visitors than it had in the previous May.


Audi of America was the U.S. branch of Audi AG, 99 percent of which was owned by Volkswagen AG in 1999. AoA's advertising shifted drastically when Stephen Berkov, who had previously headed advertising for the German-based Audi AG, was reassigned in 2004 as marketing director for AoA. To allocate more capital for advertising, the newly appointed director disbanded AoA's e-business team and reduced spending on the company's online infrastructure. Berkov also reduced AoA's dependency on multiple ad agencies and allocated more control to McKinney & Silver, which had done work for the company since 1993. Referring to AoA's advertising account, Berkov said to Advertising Age, "I wanted it integrated because it blurred the brand too much."

To advertise its all-new A4 model, in early 2005 AoA released its "Sum of All Parts Challenge" campaign. The campaign included the tagline "Never Follow," a slogan used for all AoA models. "We said, 'let's break out of just doing banners,'" said Dave Cook, group creative director at McKinney & Silver to Adweek. "Let's have people do something." Resembling an online scavenger hunt, the "Sum of All Parts Challenge" asked consumers to collect nine different banner ads touting A4 features. Ads were placed on websites relating to finance, lifestyle, and automotive interests. The challenge's winner was eligible for a two-year lease on a new A4. Other prizes included personal digital assistants (PDAs) and high-end stereos.

Even though the A3 would not be available until mid-2005, Berkov wanted to target 25- to 34-year-olds starting in March. He believed that traditional television spots and print ads would not appeal to the car's target, who, he explained to Advertising Age, did not appreciate commercials "shouting at them, telling them what to buy. They smell artificial messaging and lack of authenticity." Instead Berkov wanted McKinney & Silver to create a campaign that engaged consumers as an alternate-reality computer game would.


The campaign targeted an audience of video-game enthusiasts, also called gamers, who enjoyed playing alternate-reality games (ARGs) that blended fiction with reality and were ultimately controlled by the games' designers, or "puppeteers." This target market, which Berkov profiled in the News & Observer as 23- to 34-year-old males, typically disliked traditional advertising that told consumers what to purchase. Also, according to advertising analysts, gamers typically avoided pop-up Internet ads by installing pop-up blockers on their computers. Many skipped through television spots by using TiVo, a television accessory allowing audiences to fast-forward through commercial breaks. Instead of being told what to purchase, gamers preferred to discover products on their own. "Engaging consumers so they follow your brand is the new holy grail," Brad Brinegar, the CEO of McKinney & Silver, was quoted in BusinessWeek Online.

Some marketing analysts titled this tech-savvy demographic as Generation C; the C abbreviated the word "creative." Generation C, according to's director Reinier Evers, created most of the content of Internet forums, online blogs, and virtual bulletin boards. McKinney & Silver thus used such sites to make contact with its target market, releasing important details about the "Art of the Heist" storyline on the campaign's main website, Actors playing roles in the campaign even answered questions in Internet chat rooms. Subsequent fan sites materialized during "Art of the Heist," and the campaigns' outcome was debated in blogs and bulletin boards.

In an approach that was unusual for advertising campaigns, the target that the agency chose for the "Art of the Heist" represented a different demographic from the one that AoA executives believed would actually purchase the product advertised. The target market for the Audi A3 wagon, which carried a price tag of more than $26,000, was defined by Berkov in BusinessWeek Online as 25- to 34-year-old males that were college-educated and earned more than $125,000 annually. This group was somewhat older and typically more affluent than the 23- to 34-year-old gamers. Creatives at McKinney & Silver assumed that if enough trendsetting gamers approved of the "Art of the Heist," their opinions would persuade the more-affluent A3 target market.


August Horch founded the car manufacturer Auto Union in 1932. The German-based company featured four models of cars, including a touring car called Audi, which was a Latin translation of the founder's first name. The corporation later dropped the name "Auto Union" in favor of "Audi."


In March 2005 Volkswagen of America (VWoA,) the American branch of the German automaker Volkswagen AG, released print ads, radio spots, television spots, and other events heralding its newly designed A5 Jetta, which was larger and more expensive than its predecessors. The campaign, titled "All Grown Up. Sort Of," was created by the agency Arnold Worldwide of Boston. It targeted 20-something consumers transitioning into adulthood. The campaign's first commercial, "Airport," featured a young businessman using his A5 Jetta to shuttle an older, conservative colleague from the airport. When the tense older executive turned on the Jetta's radio to "check the scores," the speakers blared loud rock music. The spot ended with the tagline "The new Jetta. It's all grown up. Sort of." In addition, as part of the campaign Arnold representatives distributed wooden puzzles and coloring books depicting adults performing mundane tasks until their lives were enlivened by the new Jetta. The campaign also included a six-minute film titled The Check Up, which featured a man in his late 20s humorously being criticized for not behaving like an adult.

On February 14, 2005, the ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky released a campaign titled "Counterfeit" to increase awareness about the premium small car MINI Cooper, a brand owned by Bayerische Motoren-Werke AG (BMW). Similar to "Art of the Heist," the "Counterfeit" campaign used a nontraditional narrative that blended fiction and realty. It featured one television spot that warned of "counterfeiters" selling dilapidated cars as MINI Coopers. In addition to the one commercial, Crispin Porter + Bogusky created a fictional watchdog organization to educate the public about counterfeit MINIs. The 10-minute DVD spoof "Counterfeit MINI Cooper" could also be purchased on the website


The "Art of the Heist" began on March 31, 2005, when AoA announced that its brand-new Audi A3 had been stolen from the New York Auto Show. To reinforce the claim, McKinney & Silver distributed handbills in 10 cities that announced the missing Audi. The A3's vehicle identification number (VIN) was listed on the handbills. People who spotted the car were asked to call a phone number or visit Audi's website. From the website visitors were led to a fictitious company called Last Resort Retrieval, which supposedly retrieved stolen art from high-profile thieves. served as the hub for the campaign's narrative and introduced the characters Nisha Roberts and Ian Yarbrough. A "glitch" on the website offered a glimpse into Last Resort Retrieval's private intranet, which was loaded with clues such as tapped phone calls, surveillance videos, and puzzles.

Ian and Nisha discovered that an art thief had stolen the A3 and that memory cards with information about an art heist were hidden inside the car. Ian retrieved the A3 from a New Jersey chop shop. The act spurred the original car's thief and then the police to chase Ian from the East Coast to the West Coast. To lend further credibility to the story, phony "ads" announcing the services and contact information of Last Resort Retrieval were placed in issues of Wired, Esquire, and USA Today.

"What was certainly surprising to us was the importance and impact of good, old-fashioned traditional media in helping make ['Art of the Heist'] explode," Lee Newman, the AoA account director at McKinney & Silver, said to Adweek. In May 2005 a television spot featured interior and exterior images of the new A3. To relate the commercial to the campaign's narrative, copy appeared during the spot asking the public to report the missing Audi to "It was like a chemistry experiment," Newman continued. "Adding a little bit of this, a little of that—you really sort of get an explosion."

Public events were also announced on The campaign changed unexpectedly for its creators after the website reported that Ian and Nisha were appearing on May 1 at the Coachella Valley Music Festival. When AoA's tent was inundated with fans earlier than expected, Chelsea Pictures, which produced the online video for the campaign, was forced to suddenly change the script. "One of our [fictional] characters was killed as a result of that," Jonathan Cude, group creative director at McKinney & Silver, said to the News & Observer.

Fortunately for AoA and its ad agency, fans following the campaign began creating websites that speculated about the game's outcome. Even websites such as, an automotive website, tracked the story. The campaign ended in late June at E3, a video game convention held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Attendees, unaware that they were observing a staged performance, watched Ian physically apprehend the art thief responsible for the A3 robbery.


In the 1980s an American Audi owner named Alice Weinstein claimed that a brake malfunction had caused her Audi 5000 to unexplainably accelerate. After suffering an injury from the reported malfunction, Weinstein sued AoA dealerships and created the Audi Victims Network. The CBS program 60 Minutes even reported on the incident, which eventually sent AoA sales into a downward spiral. Fortunately for AoA, the New York courts favored the AoA dealerships in a 1986 settlement.


AoA partially assessed the campaign's success by measuring traffic to AoA's U.S. website and Audi AG's international website. Total traffic for both sites in April 2005 was double the amount recorded during the same month in 2004. AoA estimated that 500,000 people followed the "Art of the Heist" storyline until its completion in June. The car company also reported that 33 percent of the website's visitors further searched for extended A3 features, such as dealer locations and lease options; this was higher than the 25 percent who further researched AoA's A4 model. The campaign was credited with pre-selling 500 A3s before they were even available in North America. "'The Art of the Heist' represents a true innovation in the way Audi connects with its target consumer," Berkov was quoted in the PR Newswire news service. "The power of this program comes from our deep understanding of the A3 target audience," Berkov continued.

Advertising critics praised "Art of the Heist" for being the first ARG campaign within the auto industry. It garnered the Best in Show award at the 2005 MIXX Awards, along with gold awards for online integration and product launch and a silver award within the word-of-mouth category. AoA and McKinney & Silver considered "Art of the Heist" a success when AoA posted 5,389 A3s sold at the year's end, making 2005 one of AoA's best years in its 73-year legacy.


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                                             Kevin Teague