Audi is currently one of the most famous on-screen automotive brands in the world. Having had cars in almost all recent Marvel movies — including the box-office record-breaking Avengers: Endgame — as well as the new animated movie Spies in Disguise, that four-ringed logo has been imprinted on a lot of brains. So Audi recently interviewed its own head of International Product Placement, Kai Mensing, about putting its cars on the silver screen.
It’s a very interesting interview that was conducted by Audi Soul and it sheds some light on the world of movie product placement. It’s also interesting to see how Audi wants to portray its products in film and how it would prefer to have its cars placed in a more organic way, rather than force a scene or even a specific car.
The interview is worth your time so give it a read, especially if you’re a Marvel nerd like I am. I’ll post it below:
Audi Soul: What was the first Audi ever seen in a film? And what was your first ‘feat of arms’?
Kai Mensing: The first example of Audi product placement I can think of was an Audi 5000 in the 1982 Steven Spielberg classic “E.T.” I myself have been working for the product placement department since 2010. My first major international project was “The Cold Light of Day” in 2012.
AS: How does such product placement actually work? Does Audi contact the film studio, or vice versa?
KM: There is no standard process. Sometimes we contact the studio, sometimes it is the other way around. We also get calls from agencies and contacts from the film industry or sometimes even directors or members of the cast who know us. We usually read the script, and we check whether the offer matches our strategy and communication goals. If that is the case, we support the project with cars, parts and technical expertise. We will make sure the studio has all the resources it needs.
AS: What is the collaboration with the film studio like? For example, how much say does Audi have in the storyline and the context in which the cars are shown?
KM:We certainly don’t want to adapt any scenes to our own needs. Our goal is the organic, authentic integration of our brand and our products in entertainment for the general public, so we don’t force things. We adapt to the story. If the script requires a sporty car, we deliver an Audi R8, or one of the RS models, for example.
AS: Does Audi have a preference for certain film genres? Are there any films in which the brand prefers not to participate?
KM: There is no pronounced preference, but of course action films are a very rewarding genre because we can integrate the cars in a more dynamic way. That is preferable to static placements.
AS: Perhaps the most striking film in the list is the erotic romance “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Did Audi hesitate to enter into that partnership?
KM: The books mention Audi cars several times, so it was logical that they would also be part of the films. None of the scenes in the film that are showing the Audi will be raising any eyebrows, so we didn’t hesitate to cooperate.
AS: What is the biggest challenge in product placement?
KM: Logistics. We need to get the cars – sometimes several identical models – and the extra parts and a technical support team on set very quickly. Film sets also tend to be remote or difficult to get to.
AS: Have you ever experienced any crazy antics on set?
KM: Once we forgot to switch off the emergency call & service [ES1] feature before a crash scene in a film. The car was brand new at the time and was just about to be launched. In the event of a serious accident, it sends an automatic notification to the Audi emergency call center. This happens when the airbag is triggered, for example. The car then transmits its GPS location, its direction of travel and the number of occupants. The stunt activated the feature… and I had to explain the false alarm to the call center. A crazy situation, but the film crew was seriously impressed by how well the built-in feature worked.
AS: What is your favorite film or scene with an Audi in it?
KM: The chase with the Audi SQ7 in “Captain America: Civil War,” from the Marvel series. Creating that scene was extremely challenging because we had to work with lots and lots of cars in a tunnel for several weeks. Particularly, the challenging stunt at the end of the scene required meticulous preparation by the stunt crew and our technical experts.
AS: An Audi concept car is developed especially for some films, such as “I, Robot.” What is that process like? Is there close cooperation with the film crew?
KM: Yes, very close cooperation is needed between the film crew and Audi Design, but Audi’s communication and marketing departments are also closely involved. The process usually starts with a detailed briefing by the film studio. After that, Audi’s designers can give their creativity free rein. They put their ideas on paper and those sketches then go to the studio for approval. Our CAD designers convert the selected sketches into a virtual model, which already looks very realistic. That design is then assessed by the film studio’s creative team and adapted to the film’s aesthetics and artistic guidelines. That design then goes back to Audi for its review. Things go back and forth like that a number of times until everyone is satisfied with the result.
AS: What was the most impressive concept car ever used in a film in your opinion?
KM: Without a doubt the Audi e-tron GT concept car that Tony Stark drove in “Avengers: Endgame.”
AS: Are such concept cars a good way to test the audience’s reaction to new features? For example, have some of the features developed for film cars ever been put into production in real life?
KM: The car we designed for “Spies in Disguise,” the Audi RSQ e-tron concept car, combines a range of features: full electric drive, virtual exterior mirrors, laser lighting, on demand, a hologram speedometer, self-driving and fictional features tailored to the needs of film hero Lance Sterling. Many of these technologies already existed or were soon to go into mass production. This creates a credible link between fiction, future and reality.
AS: Will the Audi RSQ e-tron itself ever go into production?
KM: Unfortunately, it is a purely fictional model.
AS: It is a very special example though, because “Spies in Disguise” is an animated film. It was also the first time Audi was asked to design a purely virtual concept car. Was that way of working very different from the usual process?
KM: The car was chosen based on the script, as always. Of course, there was a very big difference in terms of implementation, as no actual cars were needed. We are certainly not ruling out any more collaborations with these type of films in the future.
AS: What is Audi’s main reason for product placement? Is there a big effect on the audience?
KM: A focus on projects with a big reach is part of the new brand strategy. Blockbusters are the perfect stage for Audi to get fans, customers and potential customers excited about the brand. The most important thing is that the car is a credible part of the plot. Films become part of our collective memory. They last for decades, first on the big screen and then on the small screen. A single film can reach hundreds of millions of people around the world. That significantly exceeds the reach of conventional advertising.