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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...