Audi Touts Success of “Heist”

Audi of America is crowing over the results of its alternate reality gaming (ARG) “Art of the Heist” viral campaign.

The company says the game has generated four times more online buzz for the A3 compact car, has engaged more than 200,000 people in a single day, and has attracted 79 percent more qualified visitors to the Audi Web site, as compared with previous efforts.

“‘The Art of the Heist’ represents a true innovation in the way Audi connects with its target consumer,” said Stephen Berkov, Audi of America’s director of marketing, in a statement.

The effort, which began on April 1 in New York, revved up with the fictional theft of an Audi A3. Since then, game players have followed — and participated in — the adventures of Nisha Roberts and Ian Yarbrough, two specialists in recovering snatched art, as they track down digital clues hidden in Audis across the country. The tale of game designer Virgil Tatum, who is developing a game based on Roberts, also plays into the narrative.

The ARG was created by Audi’s long-time ad agency, McKinney + Silver, in partnership with Campfire, which is an collaboration between Mike Monello and Gregg Hale of Haxan Films, GMD Studios and Chelsea Pictures.

Besides running online advertisements encouraging people to help find the stolen A3, the company has created a microsite at stolenA3.com where gamers can follow the action. Audi has also created a fictional site for Roberts and Yarbrough’s company at lastresortretrieval.com, and a site for Tatum at virgilkingofcode.com.

The campaign also uses blogs and wild postings to keep the public updated about the alternate reality action. Additionally, game players have themselves created wikis (define) and fan sites, such as heist.smirkbox.com, to help others follow the narrative.

Offline, Audi and McKinney have used television, print, and outdoor media to drive interest in the ARG. The campaign has also introduced the fictional characters at events. At the E3 interactive entertainment conference in May, actors playing Tatum and Yarbrough made an appearance and even reportedly made a scene, bursting into an argument on the exhibit hall floor.

“This program has pulled the A3 audience into an idea that we call ‘part alternate reality gaming meets branded content, part The Bourne Identity meets The Da Vinci Code,‘” said David Baldwin, McKinney’s executive creative director, in a statement. “It’s a living movie that allows the audience to participate on many different levels.”

Audi is counting the game as a success because it’s generated high levels of online buzz. The company says it’s seen four times as much discussion of the A3 online as it had before the program began. In addition, those who’ve clicked on a campaign-related online ad and gone to the A3 microsite have generated 34 percent of their page views in areas the carmaker terms “buying indicator” pages. These include a vehicle configurator, a payment estimator, and a feature that lets users request a quote. According to Audi, this allowed the company to tag 79 percent more site visitors as “qualified,” as compared to previous launch efforts.

The “Art of the Heist” effort will continue through June 29.

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