Fresh off of claiming an Effie at the prestigious Effie Awards Gala in New York, Ana Russell, General Manager of Brand Marketing at Audi of America Inc., sat down with Alan Hart to discuss just what it was about Audi’s highly touted, Stay Uncompromised campaign, that made it such a huge success.
Interviewer: Anna, thanks for joining me. If you wouldn't mind starting with your name, your title, and just responsibilities.
Anna: I'm Anna Russell, GM of brand marketing at Audi of America. And my responsibilities cover all the brand marketing, from media to creative concepting, to social media, research, and beyond.
Interviewer: So you won an FE for stay uncompromised. Congratulations. What was the inspiration behind that campaign?
Anna: Well, it was twofold. Firstly, I was really coupling the vision of the designers and bringing the A3 to America. They really went overboard in making sure that they brought this completely uncompromised entry-level sedan. They didn't compromise on luxury or design or performance. In fact, actually, the technology was the first in the A segment to bring MMI, and actually was the first car in America to have 4G LTE. So they had this vision of really bringing a breakthrough product to that segment. And then we coupled that with an insider back of the target audience as well, who we knew were millennials. They had very high expectations. And in true Audio fashion, we tend to attract a really progressive audience that likes to challenge the status quo. So we really wanted to marry the vision from the designers in bringing a really uncompromised product with the target audience who obviously wanted to be uncompromised and really sort things that really delivered on that.
Interviewer: I'm sure there's hundreds of decisions that go on in the production and lead up to a campaign. Were there any pivotal decisions that you think back on and you say, "That was an important one"?
Anna: There's always two great points. One is when you really feel that you get the strategic direction, and you can feel the energy behind the team. When we landed on stay uncompromised, it just felt so right. We've done these product clinics, and it really seemed to fulfill on what consumers are actually saying about the product. And just also the way that they, our consumers, saw themselves as well. They really saw themselves as challengers. They really saw themselves as pushing the status quo, they really saw themselves as doing things differently. So it felt like this really great sweet spot in stay uncompromised, and then of course, just selection of creative. There's always many ways you can go, and there's always that moment of which is the one. So when we selected the [inaudible 00:02:53] script, which was to the lyrics of We are the Champions by Queen, I think that was a great moment as well. I think we all got really excited about that, and really felt just how emotional it was and just how it delivered on our strategy.
Interviewer: Any leaps of faith that you needed to make to get to the end?
Anna: I think there are always leaps of faith. I mean, you can do your research. We obviously did product clinics. We investigated the psychographics of our target audience a lot, but of course, we always like to do breakthrough work. And we always like to be at the leading edge. And when you're at the leading edge, there's always leaps of faith involved. I mean, look at the social program that we did around it, where we invited people to share their stories and then we actually turned their stories and their tweets into lasting pieces of art. And not only did we do that, and collect together 15 different artists from all sort of different fields, whether it was comics or rappers or improv comedy artists, but we all filmed it live over six hours as well, which was an audacious task. And honestly, nobody had ever done it before. So when you're breaking new ground with things that have never been done before, there is an element of faith. The beauty was it took off and we had just incredible success with it, which is great. But yeah, of course it was a leap of faith.
Interviewer: So Ricky Gervais [SP] was one of the people profiled. Any concerns? He's a pretty polarizing character.
Anna: Well, I mean, the whole spirit of the campaign was about people who are fearless; art designers who are fearless in what they wanted to achieve with the car. And everyone that we featured in that spot was fearless in some way. Whether it was Lindsay Addario [SP] and her photojournalism in Darfur, to Ricky Gervais who's turned down really huge parts, because he's really uncompromised in the types of parts he wants to do. And he's polarizing because he speaks his mind, and that's something that we really appreciated. He has integrity, and that's something that we really live by at Audi. Everything has got to have substance, everything's got to have integrity. And Ricky Gervais definitely delivered on that.
Interviewer: So what was the primary goal behind the campaign? Was it to take market share from your competitors, upsale existing car buy from somewhere else? What was that goal?
Anna: Well, our research showed that the A segment was going to be a huge growth opportunity here in America, so we felt it was a great opportunity to bring in actually first time luxury buyers really. Our goal was to bring in some [inaudible 00:05:27] new to the category, so a lot of it was actually about growing the whole category and making sure that we brought in those first time buyers. Of course, it's always wonderful to get market share from competitors, but we knew to our ambitious sales goals, honestly, we'd need to conquest from the main stream and bring them into the luxury sector.
Interviewer: So was there a fear at all of cannibalizing existing sales when you re-launched, I guess in some cases, the A3 into the US?
Anna: Yes. So it was a complete re-launch in that the whole vehicle was redesigned from the ground up. So it was an entire new launch. Of course, it's something that we watched. But I think what was really understating is, one, that we brought in completely new buyers and to the segment. And actually what we saw was the A4 actually did really well on the back of the A3 advertising. So what we found was a lot of people came in for the A3 but a lot of people also upgraded to the A4 because they wanted a bit more space. So actually, we found that the two sat really well together, and we found that actually the A4 because of all of the noise in the marketplace and how many new consumers we were bringing into the brand, actually benefited from it. But of course it was a concern but we were very fortunate and just seeing the dynamic play out that actually we just brought more people into Audi all together.
Interviewer: So how did you come up with the key customer insight? Was there a specific way in which you did that?
Anna: We started with the product. We did a series of different product clinics, just to see how the A3 stacked up against its competitive set. And one of the things that we kept on hearing from consumers was the fact that, "Wow, the attention to detail, the performance," just the incredible amount of tech. They couldn't believe that we were bringing this in an entry-level vehicle, that every bit was through and through. And they were like, "Wow, we haven't compromised anything." So this word of compromise kept on coming up, whether that was how the design was talked about, how they put the car together, to even have consumers taught about the product.
And one of the things we know about Audis, people see this great affinity between them and the Audi brand, in terms of there's this sense of humor, a slight sense or irreverence, but actually underpinned by great performance. So when people were using the wording of uncompromised, they also were reflecting their own approach to life as well, so we felt there was this really great sweet spot there.
Interviewer: So talking to customers, were there any other ways in which you were doing research or really trying to understand what motivations were?
Anna: Yeah, we undertake a series of different studies, whether that's indicated studies or custom research. So this was such a big product launch, obviously, we did quite a series of consumer insight work to really understand the psychographics and the mindset of the audience too. To make sure that we really genuinely connected with something that was meaningful for them so that we could bring, obviously, in the market the product in the most appealing way. Because at the end of the day, our goal was to drive demand and make sure that people came into the dealerships, and wanted to make sure, obviously, that A3 was seen as hard. And I always say our products are so amazing. We just wanted to make sure that we can get people so that once they drive an Audi, they never look back. Our goal is to drive enough people into the leaderships so they can actually experience the amazing nature of our cars.
Interviewer: So honing in on the customer language, seemed to be one of the most important pieces, maybe even made it into the campaign around staying uncompromised, this notion, despite all of the data and psychographics that you had. I'm just wondering, did you think about that as you were developing the campaign? I'm just curious.
Anna: It was something that really came through when we looked at the product, the consumer clinics and the fact that that was how they were describing the car. And that was almost the thing that was the biggest moment of surprise, that you get to get into this entry-level that was uncompromised. And even the way they talked about the people that they respected in business. This whole movement from a CEO just being in a suit to Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey [SP], or Blake from Toms, there was this whole movement of millennial leaders shaking things up and being very uncompromising about the way they did business, and being very, very true to their vision. And that was definitely something that came through when we were talking to consumers and asking them about the role models they see in their lives. So they felt like there was this really good match between who they wanted to be, who they aspired to be, and also what they were looking for in the product that we were bringing.
Interviewer: So I want to pick up on one other thing you said earlier in the conversation, around getting this idea and then taking it to market, and all the various aspects of the campaign. How did make those decisions? TV versus how you're going to promote the campaign, potentially digital? I'm just wondering what was behind those decisions. How did you plan the campaign, if you will?
Anna: Well, we worked with our partners. Mediacom obviously do all of our media planning, and Vanderbilt [inaudible 00:10:49] Partners is our lead creative agency. So really, we gather together and clearly look at all of the data, which is what is the best possible way to meet our consumer in the most relevant way. And that's multiple touch points. As we know, people are watching TV on dual screens, so making sure that we had really smart digital programs that complemented what we were buying on television. Clearly social is huge for this demographic. And we really wanted to tap into the fact that this demographic loves to create, loves to share their stories. So putting them front and center and really making them the heroes of the stories and bringing their stories to life, so we really were helping them to capitalize on those memories. I'll put it that way.
Interviewer: You had a team behind you, I'm sure. How did the team play a role in the success of the campaign?
Anna: The team is everything. I always think advertising or marketing is the ultimate team sport. It takes so many people. And I was saying earlier, you always know when you get the core idea and you can see it sparking different ideas. You can see how energized people do and how they can bring it to life in their field, whether it's digital or social or PR or content. All of the team took it and really made the campaign their own, because one size doesn't fit all. What we did on Twitter doesn't necessarily work on Instagram, doesn't necessarily work here. So it was great just to see the team really galvanize behind it. Even our dealers, every single one of our dealers held a launch night, uncompromised event. That was 279 simultaneous launch night events, which was pretty incredible, honestly, to pull off. It was without a doubt a massive team play.
Interviewer: It was quite the coordination, quite the coordination.
Interviewer: So winning an FE is about marketing effectiveness. How would you define what marketing effectiveness is?
Anna: Well, there's the immeasurable stuff and then there's the anecdotal stuff. At Audi, we measure it against when it's opinion and consideration, obviously, sales. We obviously also track where our conquests are coming from, what audiences we're bringing into the brand. And we set parameters of what we want to achieve, and obviously, measure ourselves against those. But then there's also the unspoken or the anecdotal, which is: did the organization galvanize behind it? Did the dealer network get excited? Because at the end of the day, the dealers are everything. They're the ones who have the relationship with the consumer. They're the ones who sell the product. And it's really important for us to make sure that we have a campaign that our dealers are really infused about. So that's another, I guess, silent KPI. I guess also how the industry reacts as well. It's something else, and consumer comments and social, of course.
Interviewer: So switching gears a little bit, talking about yourself. You've reached a level of success in your career. What fuels you?
Anna: I love a great idea. When you have that breakthrough moment where you think it's just a great cultural insight, where you can sit and go, "Wow, this work is going to have cut through. It's provocative. It's progressive," you really feel that it's a little bit defining of its times. That's just a great moment. And then obviously the beauty of marketing is you work hard, you get a strategy, and then you see the fruits of your labor, because you see it going out in the world and then you can see how consumers respond to it. And obviously, at the end of the day, we really want to move consumers. You want your work to have an emotional connection with them. That actually is meaningful, and at the end of day, drives them to action.
Interviewer: So you must follow some brands or even at least acknowledge them in the marketplace. Are there any that you follow or track, you think are interesting, or you just love? I'm just curious.
Anna: I think it's just a really interesting time at the moment. There's such a proliferation of interesting companies who are really challenging how things have been done, whether that's Toms with their wonderful one model. Or Airbnb; I think it's incredible what they've done with their business model, and also even to some of their marketing tactics, with the house floating down the tams [SP], really disruptive, really imaginative with a sense of fun. So I really like what they have been doing. Burberry is pretty impressive, honestly, in what they've done with the digital space and really bringing almost the Burberry feeling that you get in store and that tactility to online. So I think that's been really impressive. And then of course there's what you're jealous of. I have to say, I love the "Run like a girl campaign," by Leo Burnett, which I think was just absolutely breakthrough and really resonated. So you always see one and you think, "Wow, that's good."
Interviewer: It seems that you have an interest around this intersection between the idea and the practical notion of it, and then it somehow moving either the group that it's targeted forward. I don't know if I'm putting words in your mouth, but I wonder if you could talk about that.
Anna: No, absolutely. I think it's the difference between talking about what a product is and why you're doing it. And obviously, why has much more of a deep rooted emotional thing. At Audi, we really try to have what is progressive, provocative, that has a point of view, and a bit of a reflection on culture, because that's very much a core part of our DNA. So we definitely gravitate to work in that direction rather than just explaining a set of features. We really want to talk about what those features mean to someone.
Interviewer: Well, let's talk about marketing. What do you think is the biggest opportunity today for marketers?
Anna: The tech explosion, from artificial intelligence to augmented to reality, to the proliferation of apps. Data is obviously a huge one because we're collecting data in a non-precedented scale, really being able to micro target people. So I think that's really exciting, but it also poses a huge challenge. One is obviously fragmentation, because how can you be at all these different places, yet a singular soul of a message? You actually have to adapt to each different touch point, because people are in a different mindset at each touch point. So that's quite a challenge for marketers. So you have this great opportunity offered by data and all of these new platforms. The other side is how do you cope with the fragmentation, and how do you fuel them with the content that they need? So I think it's a really interesting balance.
Interviewer: Any tips or suggestions you would have to marketers to help maintain that balance?
Anna: Authenticity. I think if there's one thing that I'm most proud of, I think, in our social approach, is the fact that we really try to be authentic in each of the channels. We definitely have moved away from matching luggage and pushing a message. What we do on Snapchat is very different from Instagram, that's really quite different from what we do on Twitter. It takes a lot more work, and as I was saying, it takes a lot more heavy lifting in terms of this content creation to make sure that you genuinely have an authentic voice and you're adding some value. You're not just being there to create noise, but you want to actually either entertain or inform or actually give consumers something that they didn't have.
Interviewer: What would you predict for the future?
Anna: I think search is going to be really interesting, because obviously search was built on searching for information. I think it's going to definitely evolve in searching direct to action. You look at everything from Uber and all of these different apps which are feeding you the information that you need. So I think search is going to evolve a lot into really almost predicting behavior a little bit. We did a spoof thing for April Fools with [inaudible 00:19:09] chair that could actually sync to your computer and actually could read where you were meant to be at what point and take you directly to the meetings. Though it was fantastic, you're like, "Well, it's maybe not so fun." There probably is a time that actually knowing all this data about you, that things will sync with your calendar and will know that you're going to go to that meeting, which means you need an Uber. You've made this lunch appointment and Open Table will be able to track that and feed you up restaurant recommendations and stuff.
So I think that's a really interesting sphere of apps and search will change. And the one thing that holds true is storytelling. People still love a great story; people still love an emotional connection with a brand. Over the last 10 years, just the power of people has grown, whether that's through social media and you look at things like Kickstarter. Just the ability of people to galvanize and connect with one another has grown, and that presents a great opportunity for people because they obviously need the word of mouth thing. But it also presents a challenge for brands as well, which is why it's so important to be authentic. Because if you're not, that might not payout so well.
Interviewer: Well, thank you very much. It was nice meeting you.
Anna: Thank you.