Audi shows how to exploit the controversial London Olympics with Audi City digital store launch

Audi is the most successful luxury car brand in the world at the moment, making big gains in the US and China and outselling BMW and Mercedes in the UK.

Now it’s chosen London’s prime Regent Street shopping area (site of the big West End Apple store) as the venue for its first Audi City branch, a virtual showroom that allows potential customers to design their own car (up to a point, it has to be an existing model underneath). Eventually the VW-owned marque plans to have more than 20 worldwide.

“Audi City combines the best of two worlds – digital product presentation and personal contact with the dealer,” says the company’s top marketer Peter Schwarzenbauer. “This new retail format brings us even closer to our customers – geographically, of course, but first and foremost in terms of the quality of our relationship. Audi City offers new freedom for tailor-made services and an even more individual contact with the customer.”

This is a clever wheeze by Audi and goes a step further than BMW’s all-singing-and-dancing Brand Store in Paris (which has real cars). Most prime shopping locations don’t have space for a full-on showroom any more.

Audi City stores will have Apple-style ‘product geniuses’ to demonstrate all the brand’s numerous options. Which is a good idea when you’re charging (in the UK) north of £20,000 for even a small new Audi.

The launch of the new network in London is also timely with the capital full of well-heeled visitors to the Olympics. Audi has also had the good sense not to be an Olympic sponsor. These are under fire, yet again, for failing to occupy the seats at Olympic events block-booked on their behalf and for other members of what embattled London Olympics boss Sebastian Coe calls “the Olympic family.” He means members of the IOC, the media and countless (literally, because they’re not there) hangers-on.

Most people in the UK (who couldn’t get tickets) would choose a different description for these no-shows, like ‘liggers.’ Last night’s BBC News was stuffed with pictures of empty spaces at the venues, some of which had been hastily occupied by troops in battledress at the organisers’ behest, which made the no-shows even more obvious.

The London Olympics may be a magnificent event from a sporting point of view. For the many corporates involved it’s been a screaming PR disaster.

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