Audi Vs BMW – a Battle of Brand Association

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All Brands Have Meaning
Whether carefully and strategically considered or by default, all brands hold associated meanings in the market place. Well considered brands establish a competitive brand proposition (their brand strategy) with layers of meaning to both differentiate themselves from their competitors and to connect with their audience. These brand reinforce their meaning through all of their actions or brand touch points. As a brand agency we help brands to define their meaning and create the brand design for all their communications in order to create a consistent association with these layers of meaning in the minds of their customers.

A Snapshot of Brand Association
The clever people at Brand Tags have been busy collecting a comprehensive  list of more than 1.7 million associations that people have with brands. The result is a unique opportunity for those brands to compare the meaning and messages of their brand communication strategy with the brand associations of a cross section of the market.

Audi Vs BMW
Today we compare the brand associations of German Luxury, Automotive brands Audi & BMW.

A Comparison of Brand Association
As expected, both car brands have a high level of association with German-made, expensive, luxury and quality. When comparing either of these brands with cars manufactured in Japan, the US or Korea, these brand attributes would be seen as an advantage. However, when comparing these two brands to each other, German-made, expensive, luxury and quality as brand attributes are no more than table-stakes – they merely represent what is expected. The real differentiation comes with the other strong attributes.

The Audi Brand
Audi’s investment in aligning their brand with the values of the Olympic games continues to pay-off. Through their sponsorship of the 2010 US Alpine Olympic Team and smart campaign placements deliver a remarkably high level of association with this pinnacle of sporting events. The shared symbol of interconnecting rings provides a powerful visual link that reinforces the brand relationship. As a brand it is closely associated with an image of ‘cool, nice and classy.’ The appearance of individual Audi models in the list of top brand associations including the Quatro, tt and A4 suggests the brand has successfully built differentiated market propositions for the brands in its product portfolio. Further, the description of the ‘Audi rings’ reflects a high level of awareness and association of the visual properties in Audi’s brand identity.

The BMW Brand
BMW shares further brand associations with Audi including ‘fast, nice, class & cool.’ The concern for BMW is the combination of other associations that play out distinctly in the list creating a less than aspirational image of ‘rich, yuppie, asshole snob.’ Whilst no brand should wish to be all things to all people, Automotive brands are very conscious of the role cars play in the image their customers project of themselves to the market. I would imagine these negative brand associations would be a cause for concern for BMW. Interestingly, BMW the brand is associated with being ‘overpriced’ where the Audi brand is not. With no substantial brand association for their brand identity or range of models there is plenty of scope for BMW to improve their brands image and its associations.

If you’d like some help to define the meaning for your brand and create your communications in order to create a consistent association with these layers of meaning in the minds of their customers, why not drop us a line?

David Ansett, Brandamentalist
If you’d like daily updates of our brand thinking, you can follow me on Twitter here.

Photo from Damian Ochrymowicz on Unsplash.


  1. It is nice that Audi is getting high marks for their association with the Olympics but it’s also interesting to note that BMW ranks higher on the list vs. Audi on performance (I don’t know if it is statistically significant in your poll). Wouldn’t that attribute be more important to their target audience? When all is said and done, it is a car, after all. BMW has successfully touted the fact that they are the “Ultimate Driving Machine” for years so it would seem that the fact they own “performance” has paid off.

    Also, I’m not sure I would want my brand’s #3 attribute (as is the case for Audi) to be tied to something external to my product. Ask Accenture how happy they are that they aligned themselves so closely with Tiger Woods.

    And for you to point out that the fact that the mention of individual models shows that they have built differentiated market propositions is curious when the Quattro was last produced in 1991. Maybe it shows that they haven’t done enough to differentiate themselves in the last 20 years.

    Do some of the negative associations that you mention for BMW actually resonate better with their target market? Does that show that BMW has more gusto (for lack of a better word) than Audi and that Audi is “too soft”??

    It’s an interesting study and interesting debate.

    The real question is: which attributes lead to increased sales for their brand?

  2. Demosthenes X

    @Marketing Chief

    “Quattro” is also the name Audi applies to their All Wheel Drive system. Personally, when I associate “Audi” and “Quattro”, I associate the brand with the AWD system, and the safety and performance advantages of Quattro. The same way that I might associate “Subaru” with “symmetrical all wheel drive”.

    Notably, “xDrive” (BMW’s all wheel drive moniker) does not make their list.

  3. @marketing Chief: Quattro in this instance probably refers to Audi’s AWD technology and not the car model itself. I think it’s a great selling point for the entire line-up and a wonderful differentiator from the AWD systems employed by the other German manufacturers. Think about it for a second, neither MB or BMW’s AWD system enjoy the same acclaim and branding as Audi’s.

  4. Great debate. Thanks to Marketing Chief, Demo and DC.
    My take is that as the guys have pointed-out, Quattro refers to Audi AWD technology, which seems to resonate strongly with the market.
    As functional attributes go, Performance is a ripper, and BMW does seem to have the wood over Audi there.
    It’s possible that some of the gusto of BMWs less positive brand associations do resonate better with their target market such as ‘Rich’ and maybe even ‘Snob’, but you’ll not convince me the overpowering ‘asshole’association is better than what Audi comes back as.
    Now time to fess up @MarketingChief – what make of car are you driving?

  5. It is indeed a great debate! And you are totally correct that having an “a-hole” association is never good. No argument there.

    I knew that Quattro was their AWD system but the original post used it in terms of individual Audi models so that’s how I based my comment.

    Clearly I drive a BMW —you got me there. : ) While I do have a biased opinion on the car brand, I hope that my marketing observations are more subjective.

    BMW’s challenge is to make sure that associations of their clientele don’t overtake their product differentiators in a way that negatively impacts their brand. With those associations already out there, they need to be thinking about how to address these issues. This is actually where an alliance (like Audi’s with the Olympics) could actually help them.

    Audi’s challenge is to figure out how to take their positive association with the Olympics and link those emotional connections with their product in a way that is meaningful to their consumers. Because at the end of the day, you want to be known for your product attributes and not your external alliances. I think hammering the AWD system is a differentiator—-while BMW (and others) offer that on some models, I believe it is more prevalent with Audi. They need to hammer home WHY it’s important and how that translates into a better ride (or better performance).

    I honestly don’t know which car brand sells better in the USA but obviously each brand’s marketplace position impacts their marketing strategy/positioning relative to the competition.

    Good comments!

  6. Marketing Chief – Loving the level and passion in this brand conversation. You make alot of valid points. The only thing I’d add is that sometimes product attributes and external relationships can deliver emotional attributes too. I’d agree the footing for the BMW brand is a more emotional one – which provides a great advantage. But I wouldn’t underestimat the extent to which Audi can leverage an emotional connection around their ‘nordic’ European heritage through a focus on winter/alps/performance through Winter Olympic and AWD brand attributes.
    At least the two prestige brands are bold enough to strike-out in their own directions in seeking meaningful brand propositions.

  7. I have to completely disagree that BMW’s being perceived with terms such as ‘rich’ being a negative. If anything it is a positive because it increases brand prestige which translates directly into desirability. The opinion I am espousing is supported by an extensive amount of surveying done within the premium market and also by BMW’s consistent reign as the #1 premium car brand worldwide in terms of sales. Even the economist Paul Krugman is willing to acknowledge that humans are hard wired to one up those around them and nothing does so better than a vehicle that says ‘I have money’.

    If these facts upset you maybe you should explore further why that is.

    • Cheers Michael, great to have your comments in the mix. Few categories stir the emotions like cars. As with all things – context is king – and there’s nothing wrong with a brand being associated with the word ‘rich’, but when the association stretches to ‘rich’ and ‘asshole’ the inferred meaning changes.
      The wonderful thing about facts is they are irrefutable and so are neither upsetting or otherwise.
      But I do need to make a confession – since writing this post a while back I have since bought myself an Audi – not sure that’s made me any more ‘cool’ or ‘classy’.
      Great to have you as part of the debate.

      • David thank you for your reply. I would agree with you that context is king. I would contend that BMW’s association with the word ‘a**hole’ likely stems from its strong emphasis on performance which in turn appears to be consistently more appealing to aggressive drivers. Most of us have witnessed at some point someone driving a BMW like an ‘a**hole’. I am not convinced that it’s necessarily related to its association with ‘rich’ or even the word ‘snob’. BMW views those two latter associations positively. It consistently seeks to increase it’s brand’s desirability to what it calls the ‘wine and cheese’ crowd.

        • Great points Mike – especially that ‘rich’ and ‘snob’ can be taken by bold brands and owned in the market. The trend of political correctness to dumb-down brand values to the point where they fail to get even the meekest heart pumping is a real curse. Your perspective has reminded me of the value to brave brands to own something that really resonates in the market – even when this may seem risky. Better to stand for something that is night right for everyone than to stand for nothing by trying to offend no-one.

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