The marketing genius of Audi’s Spock vs. Spock

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By Leo Valiquette

OK. I must confess off the top to be being a diehard Trek fan. (And no, I do not attend conventions wearing prosthetic Vulcan ears or Klingon foreheads, nor do I even own such things.) But even if I were not, I’m sure I would still be praising the latest celebrity ad campaign from Audi.

If you haven’t seen it, do not read further until you’ve watched this first.

OK. If you’ve been under a rock for the past while, the young fellow is actor Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock in the rebooted Star Trek motion picture franchise. His elder is of course Leonard Nimoy, who defined the iconic character. The timing of the ad is obvious – Star Trek Into Darkness is due to hit theatres on Friday. (Editor’s note: And guess who has reserved seats for the 7:40pm Imax 3D showing?)

The geek channels have been buzzing for the better part of a week about all of the cool pop culture, autobiographical and vintage Star Trek references lurking in every scene. But that’s not what has me singing the praises of this extended commercial. It is, of course, an ad meant to tout the Audi S7 over the Mercedes-Benz CLS 550. Quinto is the stylish upstart, all smooth and sleek in his new Audi, while Nimoy struggles with the supposed shortcomings of his Mercedes-Benz.

In the end, however, it’s Nimoy who emerges the victor in their friendly wager. Reminds me of a plaque a senior co-worker once had on his office door: “Age and treachery will always overcome youth and ambition.”

Don Klein at Car and Driver last week summed up the ad as follows:

“Maybe … this isn’t really a commercial. The S7, along with the CLS and the TTS at the end, constitute product placement—props, actually—in a short film about two celebrity pals who like to compete with each other. Audi paid for it, so its car gets to win. The carmaker also gets serious viral pass-along and widespread mention in a huge array of national media, almost all of it positive. And that’s the way advertising works today: Be smart, be topical, use your own distribution channels, and create buzz-generating content.”

The only thing I will dispute in Klein’s assessment is that I do believe this is in every way a commercial, one that has found a clever way to take advantage of a pop culture phenomenon and hit the bull’s eye with two completely different demographics by having it not just be about the pop culture references.

Quinto represents the 20- or 30-something male, the digital native who is into all the latest things. Young Spock likes his quality engineering and the effortless integration of helpful technology into his high-performance machines. He is also the Spock who is resonating with a new generation of consumers, a point which will no doubt be proven by the opening weekend box office receipts for the new flick.

Nimoy is of course the quintessential Spock those of us 40 and older grew up with. But, again, it isn’t just the pop culture connection. He embodies sentiments many older men have toward all those younger fellows full of piss and vinegar who think they’ve already got everything all figured out. He may not be driving an Audi in this ad, but he still resonates on many levels with one of Audi’s target markets.

And while this is of course all scripted and rehearsed, it come across with sincerity, as if this truly is a peek into the personal relationship between these two men. In my biased opinion, the most effective advertising is always the advertising rooted in honesty that portrays real people and real situations. And this applies regardless of whether the product in question is a car, an app, a widget or an enterprise SaaS solution.

Strip away the Star Trek tie-in and you still have what I consider to be an effective and entertaining ad that manages to target both ends of a diverse audience in under three minutes. The basis for any sound marketing strategy is to always know your customer, and Audi has obviously done its homework.

Some might suggest Kirk vs. Kirk would be the most logical followup, but at this point, that would be redundant. Instead, how about Nichelle Nichols and Zoe Saldana in Uhura vs. Uhura?

Image: Business Insider

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