Iconic Ads: Audi – Vorsprung Durch Technik

The phrase reaffirmed Audi’s German background, a valuable asset for a car brand associated with accuracy and engineering strength

Audi was to launch their first brand campaign in the UK in 1982. The brief was given to BBH (Bartle Bogle Hegarty). There was some advertising earlier, but nothing strategic or brand-focused.

John Hegarty was seeking a way to connect all Audi models. He wanted to go deeper than merely aesthetics or layout. Visual emotional feelings of linking the campaign together.

Hegarty was in Ingolstadt, Germany, visiting the Audi factory. He noticed an old, faded poster on the wall. The phrase ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ arose. Hegarty had no idea what it meant, but once told, it stayed.

Hegarty suggested the brand revisit an old ad line to create an emotional connection. “It immediately came to me – why don’t we sign it off with this old German motto, ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’?” he asks. “Then Barbara Nokes added ‘in Germany.’”

“Everyone thought I was insane,” Hegarty adds. Back then, no one utilized foreign languages to promote.

The phrase was used for two reasons: to establish Audi as a German brand in the minds of consumers, as opposed to a nebulous ‘Euro-car’, and because Hegarty believed it was amusing.

While the Audi clients, Brian Bowler and John Meszaros, liked the idea, the research almost killed it. It’s too German, it’ll turn people off etc. the study indicated. ‘We are German, so why should we be ashamed?’ replied Brian and Johnny. ‘Let’s do it’. And the rest is history.”

The slogan was an instant hit. The distributors said – We love it, we love it, we have people coming in wanting to witness a bit of that Vorsprung, so Audi knew. When Boris Becker played Wimbledon, if he lost, journalists would say ‘Boris needs more Vorsprung and ‘maybe his Technik isn’t quite up to par’. So it became common parlance.

Adopting a phrase in a foreign language may not seem apparent, yet it worked for Audi. At the time, public impressions of Germany – at least in Britain – were shaped by history.
Most importantly, the phrase reaffirmed Audi’s German background, a valuable asset for a car brand associated with accuracy and engineering strength. It did all this despite the audience not understanding it. “It was wonderful because people guessed what it meant but it never said it,” Hegarty explains. “English has no word for ‘Vorsprung.’ It means ‘leaping ahead with technology’. People acquired ‘Vorsprung (sounds like ‘spring’) and ‘Technik’ (technology). It didn’t matter. It said ‘we’re German’. We didn’t realize how vital that was when we started.”

A nation reshaping itself as a byword for quality, efficiency, progress, and technology adopted the motto “Vorsprung Durch Technik.”

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