Marketing Week has an article published today about how Audi is planning on opening 20 city-based digital showrooms globally by 2015. Each will use screens to showcase Audi’s entire range of cars, including all colour and vehicle options. Customers will be able to make a selection from thousands of possibilities using Kinnect, and then see a life-sized version of the vehicle in a 1:1 scale on the screens.
Interesting in itself, but what really got my attention is how Audi plans on using these new showrooms as brand spaces to go “beyond retail”, by hosting events including readings, round-table discussions and exhibitions on issues such as urban development and mobility or art, culture and design.
These events are not about Audi cars. Rather, they are examples of how brand owners can use their brands to move beyond a type of product for which that brand is well known. This is because a brand is not a material product. The late French sociologist Jean Baudrillard wrote back in 1974 that consumption and production are not about objects but about signs. One of the marks of a successful brand is this: when a person buys an object a product belonging to that brand, that person is buying into what that brand signifies. Audi isn’t about cars. It is about intelligent, sophisticated, elegant, German innovation. This means Audi can extend Audi products beyond cars to include clothes, ties, cufflinks, watches, rucksacks and umbrellas. (Another German brand, Porsche, also brands espresso makers, toasters, kettles and even whole kitchens.)
Audi designed watch
Porsche designed kitchen
More recently, the issue of brand is taken up by the sociologist, Celia Lury. She argues that a brand is an interface between people and objects, with its effects seen on and in products, packaging, screens, retail outlets, advertising, brand events and other brand experiences. Brands give these things meaning. Taking this further, I would say that a brand needs to be designed in such a way that it is a template or blueprint for how people should design brand objects and human experiences. A question then is how clearly and simply does your brand provide product and experience designers with a schematic for what they do?