McDonough School of Business
News Story

Global Luxury Summit Explores Spirit and Desire with Audi and AKQA

The story opens with images of a smiling young astronaut, juxtaposed against the reality of his older, wearier self. The man’s son, seeing his father’s disinterest and distance, decides to put him behind the wheel of an Audi R8. Suddenly, with the chorus of David Bowie’s “Starman” in the background, the former commander is transported. He looks at his son and smiles.

The commercial, which aired during the 2016 Super Bowl, has more than eight million views on YouTube and was lauded as one of the best commercials to air during the big game.

For Mark Del Rosso, Executive Vice President and COO of Audi America, the commercial typifies the company’s “challenger spirit.”

“Challenger is in our DNA as a company,” he said, speaking to a standing room only crowd at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business on Feb. 25.

Del Rosso joined Ajaz Ahmed, CEO of AKQA, for the second annual panel on luxury branding, co-sponsored by the Georgetown McDonough Office of Alumni and External Relations, the Georgetown Retail and Luxury Association (GRLA), and Georgetown McDonough’s Undergraduate Program Office.

Del Rosso explained how Audi challenged the “rule of three” to drive higher pricing, higher volume, and higher consideration of the brand.

“We wanted to take the positioning of progressive luxury,” he said, to compete on desire rather than on price.

The company took on traditional stereotypes of luxury, Del Rosso said, instead embracing the simple, modern, elegant, and progressive.

AKQA, an ideas and innovation company that specializes in creating digital services and products, partners with Audi America as its digital marketing agency.

“‘We not only have to deliver all the right content’,” Del Rosso recalled telling the Audi and AKQA teams, saying “‘Let’s get back to creating desire.’”

For Ahmed, who founded AKQA at the age of 21, desire comes down to fame, familiarity, the new, excitement, and scarcity. Great brands find a way to combine all five, he said.

“Make sure every story creates sense of emotional resonance,” he said. “Everything a brand does tells a story.”

Ahmed is the author of Limitless: Leadership that Endures (2015) and Velocity: The Seven New Laws for a World Gone Digital (2012). When he was writing his books and looking back at history, he had an important discovery.

“People don’t change, but technology does,” Ahmed said. “Desire will always carry on throughout the ages.”

The team at AKQA attempts to tap into that universal and timeless desire in their work for clients like Nike and Chanel.

At Audi, “desire allows us to command pricing power, it allows us to do great things,” Del Rosso said. “It’s something that the heart wants. It’s the story and how it makes you feel.”

Ricardo Ernst, director of Georgetown McDonough’s Global Business Initiative, kicked off the evening with his question, “What is desire?” and moderated the conversation. Before the discussion, students posed with the yet to be released 2017 Audi R8 on campus.

Ahmed shared that successful brands share one commonality.

“If you think about all the great brands that endure and that contribute something useful to society, there’s a wrong in the world that they want to put right,” he said.