Audi gets a lot of love from 50 Shades of Grey

August 13, 2012  |  Rupal Parekh for Advertising Age  |  Comments

Staying true to its brand earned Audi a spot in Christian Grey’s garage

Audi is all over 50 Shades of Grey, the trilogy of erotic novels that has tied up the top spot on most best seller lists. Given that few other brands appear in the books, Audi’s feat of securing a starring role for not just one of its models, but for several different cars (in addition to the A3, others that make appearances are the R8 Spyder, and the Q7 sport-utility vehicle) is pretty astounding. Even better, it was all for free.

Audi said that not only did it not pay a dime to be part of the book series, they had no involvement or knowledge of the tie-in beforehand and were stunned when they found out about the write-in of the cars once 50 Shades began to pick up buzz.

The books are estimated to have sold over 30 million e-book and print copies in English alone, with book rights sold in several countries. And the series – which has become a sensation particularly among middle-aged women, earning the nickname “Mommy Porn” – is also believed to be one of the fastest-selling paperback tomes of all time, though it still pales to J.K. Rowling’s blockbuster “Harry Potter” series, which has sold upwards of 400 million copies total.

What’s more unusual is that the books’ author, E.L. James, isn’t even an Audi owner or huge fan herself. Her director of publicity at Random House Group, Russell Perreault, told Ad Age that “She does not drive an Audi. She drives a Mini and her husband drives a Volkswagon Touareg.”

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So how’d it happen? In a rare instance, it was a totally organic branded-placement that came about merely because Audi stayed true to its brand positioning as the high-end, luxury car of choice for users who want both design and performance.

It’s a standard that the carmaker has focused on achieving over time, and something that’s underscored by third-party praise, with Audi taking home award after award. Earlier this year, Audi received Kelley Blue Book’s highest honor, topping all other luxury brands, when the 2012 Audi A5 was selected as best luxury car, and 2012 Audi Q7 chosen as best luxury sport utility. More recently, it was named the Highest Premium Brand for the Autobytel and AutoPacific 2012 Ideal Vehicle Awards, and swept the category for “aspirational luxury car.”

Rob Donnell, the founder-president of Los Angeles-based Brand Arc, a branded entertainment firm that has a lot of experience doing branded deals for cars, such as Toyota, believes this is a rare instance of a branded tie-in that is driven by product attributes and how they weave into a story’s plot.

“It was probably purely character-driven,” said Donnell. “Cars always define character quite precisely, and that’s usually one of the ways [brands] can get in early” on books, TV shows or movies. When deals can sprout up organically and later lead to a paid arrangement between a brand and an entertainment property can be ideal. But it’s not so common these days, he said. “You see this less more so these days than five years ago because everyone knows that money is to be had [from brands].”

Says the female protaganist of 50 Shades, the 22-year-old virginal Anastasia Steele, after being gifted an Audi A3 coupe by her rich and domineering boyfriend, Christian Grey:

“I can drive the Audi in high heels! At 12:55 p.m. precisely, I pull into the garage at Escala and park in bay five. How many bays does he own? The Audi SUV and R8 are there, along with two smaller Audi SUVs…hmm. I check my seldom-worn mascara in the light-up vanity mirror on my visor. Didn’t have one of these in the Beetle.”

For Audi, the Shades of Grey unpaid placement comes as its sales are on the upswing, increasing in the double-digits. It set an all-time U.S. July sales record with 28% increase — which represented 11,707 vehicles — which also was the brand’s 19th consecutive month of record sales.

There’s more! Read the full article in Advertising Age.

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