Screencap from Audi's EfficientFilms.caEnlarge Photo
2010 Audi A3 TDIEnlarge Photo
In theory, we're supposed to hate stereotypes. We're encouraged to break them down and move beyond cliches. But for automakers, cliches can be a gold mine -- just think of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, which have milked the "German efficiency" stereotype for more years than we can count. Unfortunately, a new social media campaign touting the efficiency of the 2010 Audi A3 TDI goes seriously off-course.
The campaign is based around a promotional microsite: EfficientFilms.ca. The site's look is pure Twitter, and the concept is, too: Audi invites users to summarize movie plots in 140 characters or less. So, for example, one visitor summed up the Die Hard films as "Bruce Willis blows a lot of crap up."
Of course, we've all done that kind of thing before. You're flipping through the channels on Saturday afternoon, and your friend asks you to stop so he can watch, say, Rosemary's Baby. You respond, "Mia Farrow gets it on with Satan, has a baby. PTA meetings are awkward," and keep right on surfing.
It's a dismissive act -- essentially, you're telling your friend, "This movie is stupid, let me save you the trouble and tell you how it ends." That can be funny, but it's also frustrating to folks who really enjoy the film that's being disparaged. But most importantly, it completely sucks the joy out of movies by reducing works of art to one or two glib sentences. Summarizing Star Wars as "A fairy tale in outer space" (note: a real submission) is kind of like saying that the Indy 500 is about cars driving in a circle or that the Super Bowl is about a bunch of men in tights trying to get their hands on a leather ball: it misses the point by a mile.
In fairness to Audi, the site's tone is pretty squarely in line with Audi's other brash, boys-with-toys marketing. And EfficientFilms.ca would probably be a little more engaging if the entries were curated -- there's something to be said for short and funny, right? But as it is, the front page defaults to the most recent postings submitted by folks around the globe, which are currently 90% terrible and 10% spam. Given the choice between a ludicrous summary of Star Wars ("A fairy tale in outer space") and the real, heart-stopping thing...well, there's really no choice, is there?
Bottom line: we love user-generated content to build brand awareness and loyalty, even though companies run the risk of losing control of their message. However in this case, the execution seems half-thought-out and frustrating -- perhaps not the way to run a marketing campaign as shareable and Twitter-friendly as this. (We haven't noticed Twitter integration yet, but we'd be surprised if the entries on EfficientFilms.ca weren't tweeted out to the masses, since you're asked for your Twitter ID when you submit.)
But the biggest blunder of all may be that the campaign doesn't leave us thinking about "efficiency", which would seem to be the point of a website with "efficiency" in the title. We're not sure whether that's Audi's fault, or whether the blame lays at the feet of the automaker's Canadian ad agency, Lowe Roche, but we wish 'em better luck next time.
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For the launch of the 2010 Audi A3 TDI, Lowe Roche and Audi are re-writing the world’s most interesting films to be more efficient at http://www.efficientfilms.ca.
At efficientfilms.ca you can see what your favourite films look like when they are reduced to under 140 characters. If some of your favourite films aren’t there, you can add your own synopsis. Here are a few samples from the site: