In March, strange blog ads started popping up touting video game designer Virgil Tatum as well as art theft. Then during the New York Auto Show, Audi's 2006 A3 hatchback went missing. A sign was put up that read: "If you have any information regarding the location of a 2006 Audi A3 VIN WAUZZZ8P65A045963 please contact Audi of America at 1-866-657-3268." Jalopnik.com states "the number leads to a voice mailbox where callers are asked to provide any information they have on the missing car. The message says more information will be revealed on the Audi of America Web site on Tuesday morning, April 5th."
So far there are four (five if you count the stolena3.com site) "in-game" web sites - Audi USA's microsite, Virgilkingofcode.com - site for Virgil the game developer, Lastresortretrieval.com" - Nisha Roberts' site for a company that tracks down and recovers stolen artwork, and WillStar.tv - apparently a DJ with hidden areas on the message boards.
StolenA3.com tracks the story of the game and attempt to solve some of the clues. The Trail of the Heist was set up by smirkbox.com and also follows all the nitty gritty details and gives away passwords to hidden films and information. Apparently there's also Unfiction.com that was also set up but when I attempted to access the site, it wasn't working. Some of the posts from there appear in the Stolen A3 Forums.
FT.com let the cat out of the bag back on March 27, removing some of the possible transparency issues. Here are some excerpts from the article:
If all goes according to plan, more than 1m Americans will soon be gripped by the mystery of the missing car.
The hunt for a stolen Audi A3 a sporty hatchback that will hit US showrooms in May will begin next week with a launch party in New York.
At the event, the thriller's first scenes will be shot, with pictures and clues about the theft then distributed on the internet. From there, participants in the chase will use interactive tools to choose alternative plot endings.
How will the publicity be generated? With the latest weapon in the ad man's arsenal blog advertising.
Blogs, web logs or journals, which cover topics from politics to parenting, have such enormous followings that 0 can no longer resist advertising in them. The most recent Pew Internet and American Life Project, which researches internet use, found that 7 per cent of the 120m US adults who use the internet have created their own blog. Assuming one blog per person, this comes to 8m US blogs alone. The study also found that 27 per cent of US internet users say they read blogs.
“It's a brand new space, but when you get the right kind of messaging in it, the results can be astonishing,” said Brian Clark, who has bought blog ads for agencies Weiden+Kennedy and McKinney-Silver, including for the Audi campaign.
It is not yet clear if big advertisers will go beyond small-scale campaigns and make blogs a regular part of their marketing strategies.
“It is still not for everyone, but it can, at the moment, work for specially targeted ads,” says Alycia Hise, account director at TMP Worldwide, which buys blog ads for her education clients.
In the meantime, bloggers should look out for a missing car.
The Audi campaign chase is about getting bloggers to think of an A3 next time they want to buy a car. Not so different to other ads, after all.
StolenA3.com, Virgilkingofcode.com, and LastResortRetrieval.com are all registered to GMD Studios in Florida. WillStar.tv isn't though, and it does seem to be the odd one out for the "in-game" sites. Perhaps his music is used in something relating to the game.
Kotaku.com ponders the relevance of the Virgil character to the story.
I wonder if there will be some stronger tie in to gaming or a specific video game as this progresses?
It wouldn't be all that surprising to see the car pop up in some new racing video games, as that's not an unheard of thing.
The "game" as a whole is rather impressive and intricate. There are emails to read, mp3's to listen to, videos to watch, suspect lists, and much more. Whether people will take the time to go through everything to figure out the mystery is something only time will tell. It could also be the beginning of a new trend in interactive advertising.