Audi of America has come a long way over the past ten years, with sponsorship playing a major role in its success.

The German import has successfully leveraged sports and entertainment to support its transition from a relatively unknown “alternative” company with four vehicles to a purpose-driven, progressive brand.

Audi has accomplished that success despite having a significantly smaller marketing budget than Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and other companies in the premium auto segment.

In his keynote address “Shared Experiences, Brand Relevance: The Keys To Audi’s Sponsorship Success” at IEG 2017, Audi’s Vice President of Marketing, Loren Angelo discussed how Audi has used sponsorship to bring its brand purpose to life.

The strategy focuses on three key objectives: maintaining cultural relevancy, supporting the shared values of consumers, and using sports marketing to drive excitement.

Below are edited excerpts from the presentation.

Driving Culture
To be seen as progressive, it’s crucial that your brand is relevant and connected to what’s happening in society and culture.

Audi partnered with Ironman, 50 Shades of Grey and Pretty Little Liars

There is no better example than our partnership with Iron Man. Back in 2006 not many people knew about Marvel. It was all about D.C. Comics.

We had this idea from the studio thrown in front of us. They said they have a character named Tony Stark and they’re bringing in a well-known actor and an unknown director. We said ‘Ok, we’re a progressive brand that isn’t afraid to take risks.’ That’s because we loved the storyline. You had a self-made individual who used technology and his intelligence to create an empire, save his life and save the world.

Iron Man has been a fantastic partnership. We have been able to show every iteration of the Audi R8—which is Tony’s car—and a variety of other vehicles.

And it isn’t just Marvel with whom we have seen success. We need to be on the cutting edge of Hollywood, and we had an opportunity to engage new media platforms with Netflix and Showtime. That’s where consumers engage content, and we needed to make sure there was an authentic and natural placement for our brand.

We have done that many times. Look at a film franchise like 50 Shades of Grey. There was a lot of controversy around the film. From our standpoint, the writer, E.L James, wouldn’t accept another brand. She had written Audi into her books because she believed it was the right choice.

We have also used these opportunities to bring our social story to life. A good example is Pretty Little Liars. The show draws a young demographic, and you may ask what a premium brand like Audi is doing with a show like that. The program, at the time, had one of the highest Twitter followings of any program. We engaged the producers to bring to life an experience that included extra insights.

Consumers on Snapchat were following our brand. It was snackable content they were able to engage and have a better experience with. In fact, Twitter noted that, at the time, it was one of the best TV experiences.

It’s not just about product placement. It’s about making sure your brand is relevant and understood and that you’re providing a progressive approach to every experience you deliver to your customers.

Driver Image
Driver image was incredibly important to us back in 2008. We as a brand had to build a tremendous amount of credibility. Many consumers wouldn’t consider Audi.

Experiences help change the way millennials think about brands. A study from San Francisco University shows that consumers are more happy spending money on experiences than on material goods.

Audi Airbnb partnership

Last year we struck a partnership with Airbnb. Airbnb is consistent with our brand values. They are a disrupter that has changed the hospitality industry, and we are disrupter in the premium car segment.

Last year we introduced the new V810, which is a car that goes over 200 miles an hour. There are not many places in the U.S. where you can drive the vehicle legally. We needed a solution, and that came from working with Airbnb. We identified a house in Death Valley, Calif. that was two hours from nowhere. It was an Airbnb location, and we leveraged the partnership to offer a curated experience.

We promoted seven experiences, and they each sold out within five seconds. You could visit the house for 24 hours, have a curated experience with a chef, go stargazing or participate in other activities. There was also a professional driver and a full tank of gas.

The program became a social firestorm. Key influencers shared the story, and we had 20 million impressions around the experience.

Audi TOMS sponsorship

When bringing those kinds of experiences to life, it’s important to understand what’s important to your core consumer group. Audi customers want to give back. That’s a key driver for most affluent consumers.

Roughly 89 percent of consumers want to invest in brands that have shared values. That led us to a partnership with Toms. Toms is very much a progressive company. They give a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair that you purchase. And they’re very much design-centric.

We were looking for a way that we could bring this to life with our consumers. We have sales events every year. As part of that, we look for unique opportunities that we can bring to our customers. We came up with the idea of offering up a unique pair of shoes designed by Toms. When someone purchased an Audi, we gave them a pair of shoes and donated another pair to people in need.

Driving Excitement
We also use sports marketing to push our brand forward. This is all about visceral excitement. Things that bring consumers to their feet, bring fans to the game, and get them embracing your brand. 

The important thing is, we don’t want to be a brand with a logo in the background.

There couldn’t be a better story than our partnership with skiing. Our partnerships with the International Ski Federation and the U.S. Ski Team are a perfect demonstration of a space that we own.

Audi sponsoring the U.S. Ski Team

We have used our involvement with skiing to tell the story of the technology that goes into the all-wheel drive Quattro. The traction control of a slalom course is a perfect demonstration of that. The technology that goes into the sport; every single skier has a tech that is with them on each and every run throughout the year.

The focus on pushing technology forward is consistent with what our brand stands for.

Our premise of progressive performance doesn’t just win on the snow, it wins on the pitch as well. In 2015 we started our partnership with soccer. Audi has been a global partner of soccer for a number of years. We have worked with FC Bayern and other teams in Europe. But we hadn’t embraced soccer in the U.S.

We’re always looking at how we can push the status quo and not just stay in the sport that we’ve always been in. When you look at diversity, Millennials and the fastest growing sports in America, soccer was clearly it.

Major League Soccer was taking on the same kind of spirit as Audi. They had the challenger spirit and wanted to push forward. They wanted to carve out their own space, which is what we did in 2008 when we carved out our positioning in the premium space.

We loved the league’s tenacity, we loved their spirit, and we loved the opportunity to engage our target consumer. Audi has one of the youngest customer bases in the premium automobile segment. We’re setting ourselves up for future opportunities as soccer grows in America.

We have done a variety of things to bring that experience to life. What’s exciting for us is the work we have done with dealers. Dealers have their own budgets, and they fund their own local experiences. Our dealers have partnerships with five MLS teams and are in discussions with additional clubs. They see value in the sport as well. It’s not just a national sponsorship strategy.