‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ - The story of one of the best judgment calls in advertising history.
1) Towards the end of the 1970s, Audi was nowhere near as relevant as today. It was only known by some as an obscure sub-brand of Volkswagen. This reality would change over the next decade in part because of advertising.
2) The Audi Quattro, launched in 1980, was the turning point. It’s four-wheel drive system was a dramatic innovation and made it possible for Audi to be in the same conversation as the other luxury performance car brands.
3) Audi had the right product. They needed the right marketing.

In 1982, the company chose the new hot London agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) to make their brand as famous as BMW and Mercedes.
4) The chief task for BBH was to find a distinctive place for the Audi brand to occupy in consumer’s minds. If Mercedes was known for sophistication and BMW for being sporty, what was left for Audi?
5) It was their advanced engineering potential. Quattro's technology made it clear to BBH that Audi’s edge was its high-performance engineering.
6) Audi was ‘forward-thinking and had nothing to prove’ according to BBH. With the strategy set, the agency needed a creative insight to break through the noise of the category.

Co-founder and Creative Director John Hegarty (pictured middle) was tasked with the brief.
7) “We were creating our first real campaign for Audi back in 82,” Hegarty remembered. “We had to launch a number of cars and we had print and stuff like that, and the big debate was how do we tie it all together? What are the unifying factors?”
8) “I had gone to the Audi factory and I saw a very old faded poster on the wall that someone had left up there,” Hegarty said. “I saw this line ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’. They said that was an old advertising line but ‘we don’t use it anymore’. And it stuck in my brain.”
9) Vorsprung durch Technik, which translates as ‘progress through technology’, first appeared in 1971. In the early 1970s, the line was frequently used in adverts for Audi’s flagship model at the time, the Ro 80.
10) Hegarty proposed internally the brand to use the old slogan he’d seen in the factory to provide an emotional link between all of its products.
11) “It just came to me – I thought ‘well, why don’t we sign it off by saying in German this old line they have, ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’?’,” Hegarty said. “And then Barbara Nokes (another BBH founding partner) added ‘as they say in Germany’.”
12) BBH presented the idea to the client, who liked the concept. However, they needed to put the line through research to get the backing they needed internally.
13) ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ tested terribly with audiences. The feedback from Audi’s stakeholders was to not use the line in any way for the British market, the second biggest European market after Germany at the time.
14) However, the Audi clients, Brian Bowler and John Meszaros, still wanted to go forward with the slogan. Hegarty recalled their reaction: “We are a German company, we should be proud of it. Let's do it.”

This judgment call changed the future of the brand.
15) The goal with using the tagline was two-fold: To cement the idea of Audi as a German brand in people’s minds, as at the time it was seen as something of a vague ‘Euro-car’, but also, as Hegarty puts it, because it “could be very funny”.
16) The 1983 ad film ‘Vila’ was the first ad created by BBH for Audi. The film is signed off with the German line as pitched by Hegarty.
17) ‘Paraglider’ followed next to advertise the Audi Quattro.
18) The slogan was instantly successful. “Literally immediately,” said Hegarty. “The reason Audi knew was their dealers were calling up and saying, ‘we love it, we love it, we’ve got people coming in and saying I want to see a bit of that Vorsprung’.”
19) The tagline reiterated Audi’s German heritage, which in the coming decades would be a hugely positive quality for a luxury car brand. It achieved all this despite the audience never knowing exactly what it meant.
20) “The brilliant thing about it is people guessed what it meant but it never absolutely said it.” said Hegarty.
21) The 1980’s was still a decade of experimentation for BBH despite the initial success.

The agency would only hit the creative strides in the 1990s, with ads such as ‘Number One’, which totally separated Audi in consumer’s minds from other brands such as BMW and Mercedes.
22) The rest is history. The proof of the impact the line had for Audi is that the brand still maintains its relationship with BBH after 30+ years, despite the rocky recent review the agency went through.
23) Despite the success of the slogan, the future is uncertain for “Vorsprung”. In its recent campaign dedicated to promote their electric cars, Audi has used the “Future is an Attitude” strap-line.
24) The goal with the new line is to “To emphasise transformation towards sustainable and digital premium mobility” according to the company. However, Audi will still hold on to “Vorsprung”.
25) During the announcement of the latest brand campaign, Henrik Wenders, Audi’s Vice President, said that it is redefining its strategy and giving it a ‘new contemporary definition to Vorsprung’, thus making it ready for the future for a new automotive era.
26) Abandoning such a memorable line feels like a mistake. In a world where it’s more and more difficult to have long-term product superiority, assets like a distinctive brand line could be the deciding factor for brands such as Audi.

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