Should Audi have known better?

Last week, Audi found itself in the eye of a media storm over a Twitter advert, quickly withdrawn, showing a young girl, barely old enough to have started school, posed with sunglasses and eating a banana, while leaning on the grille of the advertised car (arguably about to be run over, given her size, as many were quick to point out.)

Audi were quick to apologise, but the apology was perhaps even more curious than the advert itself.
"We hear you and let's get this straight: We care for children,” they tweeted.

Possibly ok as a start.

But if you were thinking it maybe rang hollow, you were soon left in no doubt: “The Audi RS 4 is a family car with more than 30 driver assistance systems including an emergency break [sic] system.”

If there was ever a time not to shoe-horn product features into a crisis management statement, this was it. (Even aside from the fact of mis-spelling said features.)

They maybe thought they were being clever (“That’s why we showcased it with various family members for the campaign.”), but trying to justify the ad was arguably worse than running it in the first place.

In tweet number 2, they dug deeper into that hole: “We hoped we could convey these messages, showing that even for the weakest traffic participants it is possible to relaxingly lean on the RS technology.”

If you think we’re making this up, check out Audi’s official twitter handle (@AudiOfficial) on 3 August.

Eventually, there was an admission of error and an apology: “That was a mistake! Audi never intended to hurt anyone’s feelings. We sincerely apologize for this insensitive image and ensure that it will not be used in future.”

Usually, with statements issued in a crisis, the fear is that they will be edited to misrepresent the circumstances. In Audi’s case, the best outcome would have been for the simple line of apology to be quoted. The sheer squirm factor of the rest of the statement made excruciating reading.

And the final line was perhaps the most damning of all: “We will also immediately examine internally, how this campaign has been created and if control mechanisms failed in this case.”

In other words, there’s going to be a lynching in the marketing department.

But what this really tells you about Audi’s leadership (blame?) culture is that the leadership team don’t understand marketing, and if you don’t understand marketing, you don’t understand your business.

Because a brand is an intrinsic part of the product proposition, inseparable from its features and pricing, and especially so in the automotive industry. If you fail to take an interest in your marketing, and relegate campaign implementation to low-level tactical decision-making, you do so at your peril – as this advertising blunder has painfully highlighted.

There is a time to delegate and a time to take ownership.

Should Audi have known better?

Yes, they should.