Audi's New Viral Campaign is Catchy

David Kiley

Audi has finally confessed to me what they have been up to with an oddball marketing campaign that didn't look like an ad campaign when I first stumbled on it.

Called the Art of the Heist, the campaign began with a fictionalized theft of an Audi A3 at a Manhattan dealership in late March. To give the theft a sense of realism, an actual glass door was broken at the dealership, police tape was put up around the place and security men stood guard over a crime scene. Wildpostings went up around New York City and other cities seeking information about the stolen car. The "campaign" then morphed into cyberspace, taking over blogs and fansites of Virtual Reality Gaming, an odd but interesting past-time where cyberspace and terrestrial life inter-mingle in a mystery story. I thnk my schoolfriends who played Dungeons and Dragons obsess over these games.

This off-beat start to the A3's launch made it into traditional TV and print ads a few weeks ago. Those ads made sense to people who hadn't been following the game online, but each ad was tagged with an inquiry to readers and viewers seeking information abut the stolen car. That way the ad onoly made total sense to people following the game. About 125,000 people were following the game online, according to Audi, as of the first week of May.

Read my online piece about the whole Audi campaign, created by Durham, N.C.-based McKinney & Silver with Chelsea Films.


To get the full impact of the way the campaign lays out, you have to invest at least 15 minutes to a half hour to decide if you want to be sucked in to the story of this stolen car. It is a far different, and more involving, marketing effort than, for example, the BMW Films launched a few years ago. But like the BMW films, one of the beauties of these viral campaigns is that they stay up on the Internet indefinitely. That means even if an interested gamer or Audi enthusiast is interested, he or she could decide one slow night when their date cancells and there is nothing on TV, to sit down and plunge into the world of Nisha, Virgil and Ian and the stolen A3.

The hotlinks to get inot the game are,, and -- all created by Audi to support the game. Fans have also launched Web sites, such as, and, that enable devotees to follow the action.

Audi only needs to sell about 6,000 A3s this year, and about 12,000 a year for the next few years. The key for them is creating enough mystique around the cars so they can avoid slathering on profit killing rebates. If the cars perform half as well as an inventive marketing campaign, they should be pleased with the results.