Parking as Positioning (from the Audi A4)

Audi_1 You’ve seen the new ad from Audi?  It shows what may be the worlds greatest act of parallel parking.  A stunt driver drops an Audi A4 into a tiny space…at speed…while moving in the opposite direction. 

The tag line:

The luxury car for people who can park themselves.

This ad satisfies the two objectives of all creative.  It gives us engaging and strategic. 

Engaging: Audi_2

"Parking" is visually arresting, impressive, amusing, darn near sublime.  Tivos will stop for this one.  Consumers will rewind.  We will see this ad many times over it’s lifetime on the air, and chances are it will be a gift that keeps on giving. It’s a little like a magic trick.  How did they do that?

Strategic:

This ad takes on the competitor very effectively.  The Audi has the ability to park itself.  This is a remarkable accomplishmen1. It cancels the technological lead of a competitor.  Lexus has just given its car thet and Lexus is justly proud.  Not everyone is going to use this feature, but we are assuming that Lexus is assuming that the consumer is assuming that any car company with engineers capable of this kind of thing must be very good at everything else it does.  The self parking ability is a part that stands for, and speaks for, the whole.

Audi_4Now we are guessing that when Audi turned to its engineers to ask if this could be replicated, they scratched their heads and replied, "We need 18 to 36 months.  Don’t call us.  We’ll call you." 

So now Audi has a problem.  A competitor has taken a lead.   And even when Audi replicated the lead, the achievement is going to belong to Lexus.

What to do?  Well, in a time honored  tradition, it makes sense to jam the signal.  Find some way to turn the Lexus advantage into a disadvantage. 

This is where planners and creatives come in.  "Parking" does a couple of things. 

Audi_5 2. It repositions the Lexus achievement as a as a self indulgence.   This Audi, with its parking panache, turns the Lexis into a carriage, a 17th century conveyance of the French aristocrat, that bloodless fop who relied on others to do his bidding.  Audi, on the other hand, is the luxury car for people who can park themselves.

3. "Parking" also makes the Lexus look like a choice of the mechanically incompetent or automotively timid.  Cars continue to be a demonstration of other kinds of competence in our culture.  (This is why "getting your license" is our great rite of passage.)  The Parking spot makes Lexus looks like the choice of people who are intimidated by the task of parallel parking.  Let’s be honest.  We are all intimidating by parallel parking.  Who do you know who is prepared to admit to this intimidation.  Audi is the luxury car for people can park themselves…at speed…while moving in the opposite direction…as it were.  Audi becomes the car for people who are equal to the task.  Lexus the car for the faint of heart, the limp of wrist, the wan of spirit.   

4. Audi has performed a cunning act of symbolic privacy.  The marketing team found  away to come aboard, wrestle away control of Lexus’ point of pride, and turn it into something that threatens to make the consumer look pompous or risible.  The Lexus investment in time, effort and accomplishment is undone in 30 seconds.  Point of pride is now point of pain. 

Hats off to Scott Keogh, Audi CMO, who hired Venables Bell and Partners of San Francisco in December of 2006 and charged them with the task of replicating Apple’s most mythic work.  Hat’s off to Paul Venables, Greg Bell, James Robinson, and Jonathan Byrne, and Craig Allen for responding to the challenge. 

References

See the YouTube version of the ad here.

For a somewhat clearer version of the ad, go here.   

Warner, Fara.  2007.  Audi CMO’s Aim: Put Some ‘Soul’ into Brand.  Marketing Daily.  January 9, 2007. here.   

10 thoughts on “Parking as Positioning (from the Audi A4)”

  1. Pingback: Quotulatiousness
  2. Grant, lovely post (I’ve linked to it), but there’s a missing block of text that I assume read something like “It mocks the Lexus’s” at the start of the paragraph that currently displays as “ability to park itself. ” HTML coding problem or an incomplete thought? 😉

  3. Grant You propose an interesting perspective on this excellent commercial and branding strategy. The image I have for the Audi brand is that of a high end luxury / sports car. Lexus by comparison by their own brand slogan “The relentless pursuit of excellence” is truely a luxury vehicle.

    I should think that BMW affectionado’s would be more taken by this advertisement than are Lexus owners. It seems a bit misplaced for me.

    I love this commercial and think the stunt is very cool and compelling. I know how to parallel park and as such have no value for Lexus’ promotion and find the Audi spot just fun to watch. How will others take it? I suppose it will depend on why they buy Lexus in the first place…

    The concept of leveraging one branding strategy to increase your own is fascinating and certainly much less costly than 24-36 months of automotive development.

    Great post

    Ron

  4. I don’t know. I’d love to hear other thoughts. Are Grant and Ron onto something (fascinating and certainly much less costly than 24-36 months of automotive development). Or does Toyota truly know the consumer’s true purchase motivations (it’s the car, stupid!)

  5. I love this ad, and not just because I own two Audis 🙂 Audi’s tagline for a long time was “Progress Through Technology” (but in German), and this positioning which you describe so well could be seen as going against that. After all, who wouldn’t want progress of the car parking itself? But a more nuanced take on it might be that they are taking a stand on the very definition of “progress” – that a self parking car is not how Audi sees progress, that it is the application of technology in a frivolous way.

  6. Adam:

    Audi’s slogan was not “Progress Through Technology”, but was the German original “Vorsprung durch Technik”. It has been an essential part of their image in English-speaking countries that their slogan is written in German, and not in English; this marks the brand as German. I know how crucial this was for their positioning from having run focus groups in the 1990s on consumer attitudes to local and foreign manufactured goods, which found consumer perceptions of Japanese and German manufacturing quality well above those of other countries.

    Moreover, as used in actual daily life in Germany, the word “Technik” in this phrase would be better translated into English as “applying technology” or even into that wonderful word of marxist political science, “praxis”.

    At least in Britain, Audi’s slogan was much-parodied. For a long time, a civil engineering equipment firm had top-of-the-page ads in the London Financial Times, proclaiming “Vorsprung dirt Technik”, and McDonalds UK ran a campaign about their salads with the tagline, “Vorsprung durch Tomato”. It is an interesting reflection on McDonalds’ own intended positioning that their strategists could imagine that their target demographic would understand a foreign-language allusion to an up-market make of car. But then, it never pays to underestimate the intelligence of your target audience.

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  8. There is also the Hyundai ad making the comparison with the Lexus.
    The ‘manual parking’ and many thousands of dollars cheaper Hyundai zips past the ‘automatic parking’ Lexus, with the smug, rich executive type impressing his trophy wife (trophy mistress?) by having his car park for him. She’s getting all gooey.
    Lexus seems to be the target of choice these days. It used to be the Germans.

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