Audi's Super Bowl ad oozes drama

By Theresa Howard, USA TODAY
NEW YORK — Audi is betting it can rev up its image with a parody of rivals in a Super Bowl commercial backed by a Hollywood-size production budget.

The Volkswagen-owned carmaker is looking to crown itself as the new luxury auto brand. Audi’s first Big Game ad in 20 years features its new $109,000 R8 speed machine. It uses a send-up of an iconic scene from The Godfather to poke fun, without naming names, at luxury car rivals.

“We don’t look at this as a car ad as much as we look at it as a statement,” says Scott Keogh, vice president of marketing at Audi. “The message we want to send is between Old World and New World and say that Audi is the New World.

“The spot sets up old luxury as excessive extravagance. Audi is not about excess, it’s about substance.”

The ad opens on a silver R8 parked in front of a Beverly Hills mansion (a real home now on the market for $200 million). Inside, a scene from the violent movie unfolds — but it’s motor oil, not blood, that’s spilled. Film buffs will recognize actor Alex Rocco, who played Vegas kingpin Moe Greene in The Godfather. The words “Old luxury has been put on notice” appear before the R8 speeds out of the driveway.

Audi paid Paramount Pictures, which released the 1972 Oscar-winner, a licensing fee that it would describe only as ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million.’s about 35,000 registered users will get to see the ad first: It will be e-mailed to them on Super Bowl morning.

Audi will be competing with several car rivals for attention in the game. General Motors (GM), Toyota (TM) and Hyundai are in the game, Nissan (NSANY) and others are buying “spot” ads in individual markets. It also will be up against the fact that car ads in general, in any venue, tend not to be viewer favorites.

Audi’s admaker, Venables Bell & Partners in San Francisco, a Super Bowl rookie, took that into account.

“The fact that people don’t pay attention to auto ads unless they are in the market for a car is exactly the ammunition we used to do something different and provocative,” says Paul Venables, agency founder and co-creative director. “We have this slow, methodical open; it’s eerie and not a gag a minute. The light bulb is going to go off that it’s The Godfather. All those things contribute to a pause that’s going to deliver an entertaining story and brand message.”

The Audi brand already has a good story unfolding. Worldwide sales last year were up 6.5% from 2006, to 964,000. The R8’s limited production run of 700 for 2008 already is sold out, but Audi hopes the sexy flagship in the ad will burnish its brand image and drive sales of its more affordable luxury, such as the A4, starting at $40,000 and A5 at $50,000.