Q&A with Stephen Berkov, Director of Marketing for Audi


Director of Marketing Stephen Berkov is getting Audi cars plenty of screen time in shows like TNT’s “The Closer” and films like “Art of The Heist.” His innovative campaigns span across multiple platforms like entertainment, print, online, outdoor and events to connect with consumers. Berkov spoke to Inside Branded Entertainment about campaigns that drive the brand message as far and as fast as possible.

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What is your approach for using entertainment as a vehicle to drive the Audi message?

The way I see entertainment is that it’s all about emotionalization. When looking at traditional forms of entertainment, we’ve had great success with films like “Ronan,” “About a Boy,” “I, Robot,” “Legally Blonde 2” and “Transporter 2.” What all these [films] have in common for us is that they show the brand living and breathing in a relevant environment. It’s another way to emotionalize the branding and get people to see the way the brand lives.

You’ve been with Audi for about seven years now, how is the marketing climate changed from when you first started?

I’ve been with Audi in three countries: U.S., Germany and Japan. Maybe I’m a little bit biased, but things have become so much more International. People are watching [films] in so many continents. That gives [brands] a lot of new possibilities — and at the same time, a lot of responsibilities to define and communicate the brand clearly [across] different markets.

What’s your current marketing strategy?

Right now, I’m very interested in auditory branding and experiential marketing, whether it’s television commercials, video online, or any thing that comes from the brand. What is the sound of Audi? There’s so much you can do with auditory branding. I don’t see too much of that going on in the U.S. It’s very popular in Japan where TV commercials are only 15 seconds and brands identify themselves with sound logos.

The other aspect is experiential marketing. Getting people into the brand through marketing communications in creative ways of using all of the possible mediums out there: TV, newspaper, magazine and online. The most effective way for us to drive people to [the Audi brand] is obviously with the web. Once we have their names and their expressed interest, we really help experience Audi. From online all the way to purchase is where I’m looking at how to mix online CRM and events into, what I call experiential.

Can you talk about some of your TV and film partnerships?

We worked with TNT’s “The Closer” last year and were the sponsor for the commercial free first showing of the show.

We are working with “The Closer” again for the May launch of the Audi Q7 SUV. I’m looking at auditory branding in the context of television. So, that’s a hint for where we’re going with TV. We had a lot of success with “Art of The Heist,” for the launch of the Audi A3 last year and also saw how creative use of television could be very impactful. And then the experiential marketing part of the Audi Q7 SUV launch is a ten city tour which we’ll be calling “The Streets of Tomorrow.” And again, there will be an auditory aspect of that, driving and exposure to the brand.

You’ve spoken out a lot about being risk averse in marketing. How do you balance risk with reward?

It’s a really difficult environment for marketers, and I think marketers would agree that making mistakes is not allowed. Yet, if we become too risk averse, then we don’t try new things and I think ultimately the brand and our target [customers] suffers as well. Audi target [customer] is not risk averse at all. They’re the people leading trends in society, pushing the limits and want to see their brand behaving similarly. So, just go for it when you know that it’s brand relevant and you have enough to make a decision on — and even if it’s only eighty percent to be sure. Let that twenty percent be the random uncertainty that makes it fun.

Can you quantify any increases in auto sales due to some of these branded entertainment experiments?

Yes, definitely. From the “Art of The Heist,” we had record numbers of test drives and showroom traffic — and met all of our targets for that launch.

Can you talk a little bit about what is working for you when you’re promoting your brands?

What is working is clearly having a very strong identity for the brand and knowing who we are, what we stand for and why we deserve a place in the market. In order to do that you have to know your DNA, your values and personality.

What isn’t working in branded entertainment?

Artificially [placing] your brand. And that’s why I don’t like the word product placement. I think the people watching, really can sense that’s not authentic.

How are you creating the more organic integration with film and TV?

Making our cars part of the character of the story. In “About A Boy,” Hugh Grant’s PT car plays an important role in the film. It rushes to the hospital. It’s part of the life of the character. And it just fits.

How did that integration come about?

We worked with Propaganda, and they have a really good sense of the brand working with the directors and the producers early on. That’s also what we’re doing with TNT by the way.

What’s in the pipeline for Audi and branded entertainment?

What I’m interested in now with the Audi Q7 launch is online: Some of the creative ways of using banners and links to mobile and video games and the My Space type of technologies out there to personalize the branded experience.