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Audi's Terrific New "Luxury Prison" Campaign is This Year's SuperBowl Champ

Audi's Terrific New "Luxury Prison" Campaign is This Year's SuperBowl Champ

The hype over SuperBowl commercials gets bigger every year. That’s because the number of advertisers willing to pony up $3 million per 30-second spot has mushroomed. That’s excluding creative strategy, development, and production costs. If you have a celebrity endorser, the price tag goes even higher. Obviously, this is a competition only the biggest brands can compete in. The real value is in the opportunity to cut through the clutter with some truly memorable messaging and brand positioning.

Ironically, with the advent of YouTube and social media, the buzz generation machine was in full swing the last few weeks. The vast majority of the spots, or teaser versions of those spots, are up on YouTube and sites like this and this and this. The best place to take the temperature of hot, hotter, hottest spots, however, is Mashable, which has compiled Twitter results on the ads generating the most advance interest. Advertisers and agencies have caught on to the formula that Hollywood uses, releasing various versions of movie trailers and stills, especially among “fan boys,” to build excitement to a fever pitch when big budget blockbusters hit the theaters.

Even with this unprecedented opportunity to win fans in advance of the big game, some brands still don’t get it.  The posted clips are long-form making of the spot promos (Mercedes) or celebrity behind-the-scenes documentaries (Faith Hill for Teleflora).  And amazingly, Coca-Cola has told Mashable to take down their video because of copyright issues (it’s free publicity, folks!).  David Meerman Scott’s book, “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” recounts a similar tone-deafness to new media opportunities when the soda giant ignored opportunities to leverage the viral video phenomenon created by dropping Mentos candies into open liter bottles of Diet Coke (the ultimate junior high science fair experiment).

According to Mashable’s Twitter tracking results, Volkswagen has won the SuperBowl advertising fan poll with an entertaining spot of a young Darth Vader wannabee trying to marshal the “Force” by interacting with a variety of things around his household. Its popularity is earned and it will definitely be a water cooler favorite on Monday morning.

The real winner, though, came in second in those Twitter results. It is an audacious new campaign for Audi that is so creatively and strategically original that the car company deserves to reap huge rewards in new car sales in the months ahead.  Previously, if pressed, I couldn’t name you a single Audi commercial, marketing theme, or slogan. For a luxury brand, their advertising has been unmemorable as wallpaper. Not any more.

The change started in recent weeks with a spot that was a narrated voiceover takeoff on the children’s bedtime classic, “Good Night, Moon.” That spot began to redefine luxury and set the stage for something totally unexpected that came next.

The new campaign for Audi is a parody of  the landmark 1978 documentary “Scared Straight,” in which lifers from Rahway Prison spoke to juvenile offenders to paint an unflinching unforgettable portrayal of hard times they can expect from the penal system if they don’t turn their young lives around immediately. Not exactly material for selling luxury cars, right?

That’s the beauty of the new “Startled Smart” spots and extended YouTube videos that are set in a “luxury prison” where old money convicts are enlisted to talk sense into a group of Generation X drivers who think they understand status and how to spend their inherited wealth. The segments are so new, unexpected, and hilarious that you can’t wait to replay them. The real strategic brilliance is that Audi’s creative team has found a way to entertain baby boomers who remember the rawness of the Rahway inmates, as well as Generation X who are down with spending less to get luxury and to sharing these spots via social media.

Following on the first spot’s heels is a second that adds yet another rich layer. It is devoted to the quelling of riots at this luxury prison. The answer is none other than smooth jazz elevator music sax man, Kenny G, having tremendous fun at his own expense.

Audi has managed to turn the luxury category on its head with unexpected, truly inspired humor. In the process, it will make a much bigger name for itself, with all those SuperBowl eyeballs. It deserves to win the big game ad contest hands down over all those beer and snack food retreads devoted to all too familiar themes.

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Michael Vick is redefining himself and the concept of athlete as role model.

Michael Vick is redefining himself and the concept of athlete as role model.

Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, is in the midst of an amazing run, rewriting NFL record books, making a strong case for his team as SuperBowl contender, but also testing every fan’s personal standard for forgiveness. Last Sunday, my pastor, with his tongue-firmly-in-cheek, gave a sermon noting that it is a lot easier to forgive Michael Vick when he is winning.
The Vick saga is an amazing arc of highs, lows, and now highs again. Ironically, Vick seems to trigger a visceral reaction, even now, among a significant portion of the population, those who own and love dogs. Animal cruelty is an especially heinous crime and one that is hard for people to fathom. Ironically, those on the long list of athletes who mistreat women are judged less harshly over time.
But Michael Vick was not alone in his transgressions. It was an unholy mess of family and friends running a seedy sports betting business built around dog fighting, to include dog torturing and dog killing. However, Vick was substantially and personally involved enough to be found guilty, stripped of his lucrative NFL contract and career, and sent to prison. Having done hard time, last year, he was given something most of us never get — a well defined second chance at the brass ring. To Vick’s credit, he has largely made the most of that opportunity, and in a way that challenges people to rethink how they judge him specifically, and others in general.
Vick has raised his athleticism and QB skills to an incredible level. He has been generous toward spreading offensive opportunities among his teammates. He has also been gracious in recent interviews. There hasn’t been a hint of vindictiveness toward detractors. He seems to exhibit a quality all of us claim to value, but its appearance is so rare that we seldom know how to react to it. Vick understands personal accountability. He knows that he was ultimately responsible for his own downfall and he went to prison for it. Even after paying that price, he does not appear to be embittered by the experience. Instead, he has been motivated to become a better person and (gasp) a role model. Today, he makes time to speak to students and others about his experience and why animal cruelty is so wrong.
Although I am an Eagles fan, I would love to see Vick continue his amazing personal turnaround even if he were helming the Cowboys (blasphemy). What a powerful message to send to people of all ages. That we are all human, capable of horrendous mistakes, but also of turning things around by working hard and changing course.
That brings me to my original premise, which is the tipping point at which personal redemption adds up to regained advertising endorsement contracts. My pastor and reveal that I am late to the party on this subject. However, I would also like to suggest a seemingly outrageous endorsement op — Michael Vick and any major dog food company. It would be an instant buzz generator (fiercely argued about on both sides). Alpo, once long and successfully associated with Lorne Greene because of his Bonanza popularity, could tell a different story of image and reality with Michael Vick as endorser. PetSmart could show how smart they are at leveraging media moments by signing a controversial spokesperson. That’s quite a chance for big corporations to take, but Michael Vick could sweeten the deal, by donating his earnings from the contract to the SPCA. Good things can come out of even the worst of circumstances. You just have to work hard to make them happen.

Update: Michael Vick has his first endorsement deal and it’s not dog food!

Update 2: This is what I meant by Vick provoking visceral reactions. Here is a well-stated opposing opinion from one of Newton Associates’s friends, Lonny Strum, an experienced consultant, a knowledgeable sports fan, and a customer (former) of the car dealership that has Michael Vick at the center of its new ad campaign. It underscores the risk of nearly every celebrity endorsement deal and why Vick is riskier than most. This is why nearly everything Vick does of this nature needs to be balanced with a charitable component.

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