Audi launches A3 campaign starring Ricky Gervais, more 'uncompromised' celebs

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Audi of America launches a campaign today starring funnyman Ricky Gervais to tout its new car in the fast-growing entry-level luxury segment: the 2015 Audi A3 sedan, which goes on sale nationwide April 3 at a starting price of $29,900.

The highlight of the new campaign is a 60-second spot called "Dues" starring Gervais, the British comedian who created "The Office" before moving on to feature films and taking down Hollywood's elite as host of the Golden Globes awards show.

In the spot from Venables Bell & Partners, San Francisco, Gervais, U.S. gold medal winning boxer Claressa Shields, celebrity chef David Chang, comedian Kristen Schaal and other iconoclasts recite lines from Queen's hit song "We Are the Champions."

The message: Each of these "uncompromised" trailblazers persevered until they became successful while refusing to settle or cut corners. Venables' new campaign follows the "stay uncompromised" theme that it introduced for the A3 with its "Doberhuahua" spot during Super Bowl XLVIII. That commercial was meant to show the perils of compromising.


So why pick Gervais, who was criticized for daring to poke fun at Hollywood while hosting the Globes?

"He has a point of view. And he sticks to it," answered Loren Angelo, Audi's director of marketing. "That's clearly what Audi does. We are provocative. We have an opinion. ... He was a natural alignment for this campaign."

To complement the traditional ad campaign, each of the individuals featured in "Dues" will be profiled in "Uncompromised" digital portraits on Audi's YouTube channel.

Audi's A3 campaign will air heavily during Turner Sports' coverage of the NCAA college basketball tournament. The luxury brand is also buying time on the spring season finales of TV series such as "The Walking Dead." It will also advertise the A3 during the NBA Playoffs and on ESPN.


Audi's "uncompromised" ad theme has two goals. First, to show wavering customers they're not compromising when they buy an entry level A3 instead of a more expensive Audi. Second, to communicate the luxury automaker itself did not compromise when designing and building the A3.

Said Angelo: "This car is going into a segment with other vehicles at a $29,900 price point. Usually, a lot of manufacturers make a lot cost-cutting measures to deliver a product there. That simply wasn't the case with the A3. It's an Audi through and through."

The target market for cars such as the A3 and the CLA from competitor Mercedes are first-time luxury buyers, said Angelo. They're typically 30 to 40 years old in dual-income households with no kids. They make $75,000 to $100,000 annually. Audi's typical customers, on the other hand, are generally in their mid-40's and making over $150,000 a year.

On the other hand, European luxury nameplates are salivating over the prospect of luring new customers who previously bought Chevrolet, Ford, Honda or Toyota. Audi President Scott Keough told CNBC he expects sales in the entry-level luxury segment to grow 400% by 2020.

Angelo said he expects the A3 to conquest owners from Honda and Toyota as well customers from other luxury competitors such as Mercedes, BMW and Lexus.

"We think there's a lot of people who have been in volume brands who will now consider a vehicle at this price point," he said.

Mercedes was the first luxury automaker to dive under the $30,000 barrier with its successful launch of CLA last fall. The $29,900 price-tag seems to be the sweet spot to lure middle-class car owners who previously drove a Honda Accord or Toyota Avalon, say automotive experts.

"When you think luxury, you think expensive. But easy and cheap credit has made this segment relatively affordable for people who may have previously bought a mainstream sedan," said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with Edmunds.com. "Now, they can start to get into this entry luxury segment. The car may be smaller -- but you get a more prestigious nameplate. Which makes it worthwhile for a lot of consumers."

Audi's sales were flat in February, while Mercedes and BMW gained 3 percent, according to the Automotive News Data Center.

You can reach Michael McCarthy at mmcarthy@adage.com.


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