Partnership with MIT lab leads to unique branded data visualization project.
Audi knows that buyers of high-end autos are quick to rant about potholes and lousy drivers, so TV ads for the newly launched 2012 Audi A6 commiserate with those feelings. But how to channel that misery on the digital front? The answer is the Road Frustration Index, which quantifies the real-time status of traffic, accidents, weather and unhappy tweets on the roadways in major U.S. cities.
The branded index (visit site), still in beta, is presented in the form of a map that’s designed to make it easy to compare current driving conditions in various cities.
To turn the idea of a misery index for drivers into a reality, Audi of America and its digital agency AKQA connected with MIT’s SENSEable City Lab. The lab has worked with Audi for years on researching intelligent city transportation through the use of data. AKQA collaborated with the lab to craft the algorithm that drives the index and to refine the index infographics.
Including social media sentiment makes the RFI more subjective - and potentially a more riveting marketing tool - than a straightforward collection of facts. Drivers’ feelings are captured from keywords on Twitter, such as "traffic jam." And Twitter sentiment doesn’t always follow conditions. For instance, on the evening of Oct. 5, outspoken drivers in Philadelphia ranked very frustrated even though their road conditions did not rank as particularly bad.
The frustration index debuted in mid-September just before the TV and print advertising “as a way to set the stage,” says Chris Guest, AKQA group account director. The Audi USA website, Facebook page, YouTube channel and a new Audi A6 iPad app all link to the index, which can be embedded and shared.
Audi wants to quantify how frustrating the American roads are because its A6 model offers features that can alleviate some sources of frustration, such as a technologies that adapt the car to poor road conditions and warns you of drivers straying into your lane. The Facebook promo for the RFI says, “Looks like the new Audi A6 is here in the nick of time.”
But once the novelty wears off, will consumers study and share the branded index over and over? Guest says the RFI’s simplicity will help. “Users can find their own stories with the data,” he says. “The weighted index allows fair comparison between cities regardless of size, settling long-time debates. For instance, our Audi clients won their bet with us that D.C. is a more frustrating place to drive than the Bay Area,” he notes. “At a national level, we can see the impact that holiday weekends have on America's motorists. And the good people of Sacramento, Calif. might focus on why their city suffers so terribly.”
Branding is kept low key. A logo is evident and there is a link that suggests the A6 is a way to cope with users’ on-the-road frustrations. The index also links to sites for Waze, SeeClickFix, Roadify and Trapster, where visitors can find user-generated info about local road hazards, parking and cheap gas. The RFI registered 2,000 Facebook likes in mid-Sept, shortly after it launched. By Oct. 4, it was up to 3,000 likes and the overall Audi Facebook page had accumulated 3.8 million fans.
Below is a visualization of the RFI for New York City on Friday, October 7:
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Joan Voight is a Contributing Editor to ClickZ. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has covered online and offline media, marketing and advertising since the mid-1990s for several business publications. She spent nine years at Adweek magazine, where she was San Francisco bureau chief, national senior writer and contributing reporter.
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