Money-can't-buy experiences - for a price
Sailing with some of Australia's best is one of Audi's masterclass pillars, with golf recently added.
Want to learn to cook from Matt Moran, drive hot laps of a racetrack with Steve Pizzati, hit a golf ball with one of Australia's up-and-coming golf stars, learn the finer points of fashion from Collette Dinnigan, or get exclusive access to the world of theatre or contemporary art?
The answer is simple: buy an Audi. Preferably a big, fast, expensive one.
The $188,000 buy-in for an A8 limousine or $271,000 for an R8 sports coupe does seem a bit steep in return for a bit of fun and bragging rights with your mates.
But for anyone shopping between high-end brands, the opportunity to redeem such money-can't-buy experiences represents a canny investment by Audi in building brand excitement and customer loyalty.
Audi Australia corporate communications manager Anna Burgdorf says that after years of selling the brand in a battle for sales with fellow German rivals Mercedes-Benz and BMW, it is now concentrating on "the customer experience".
"We know we have a very strong brand and very good quality cars . . . the next question is, how do you really engage in a strong way with your customers?" she says.
"They have the choice of several premium brands and one of the ways we differentiate ourselves is that we imagine that Audi is more than just buying a car. You are becoming part of an Audi lifestyle and part of that is a strong customer experience.
"One of the things we want to offer our customers . . . is opportunities for fabulous experiences."
Audi recently announced the fifth pillar of its "experience" program by ramping up its support of golf, revealing a tie-up with Golf Australia to support both amateur and professional Australian events.
Golf, says Audi, is a perfect fit with its brand aspirations towards sportiness and sophistication, with global research underscoring that many Audi owners are also keen golfers.
The decision to step up its backing of Australian golf – it has supported the grass-roots Audi Quattro Cup competition around the world for two decades – was an easy one.
"The natural synergy is our customers, who are mad-keen golfers," Burfdorf says. "If we look at the brand values, the things that underpin everything that is Audi, it's about sportiness, sophistication and progression. So golf fits well into sportiness, but also into sophistication.
"[Playing golf] is something we know from research around the world, that Audi owners are keen to do."
The company will become the major sponsor of the Australian Amateur Golf Championships, and also becomes a platform sponsor of the Handa Australian Women's Open.
It means that Audi can now offer customers or "prospects" the chance to take golf masterclasses, cooking classes with high-profile chefs including Moran, Shannon Bennett or Kylie Kwong, sailing lessons from yachtsmen Malcolm Page and Mat Belcher, racetrack driving tuition from leading Australian drivers including former Top Gear host Pizzati, a fashion workshop with designer Collette Dinnigan or behind-the-scenes access to art and theatre events including dinners with the likes of Richard Roxburgh or Cate Blanchett.
It's a step forward from typical sporting and cultural sponsorships where VIPs are invited to spectate, but rarely to participate. "We can create hosting experiences, hospitality experiences, but also that real one-on-one experience for our guests which is important when you are a premium brand wanting to differentiate yourself in the market," Burgdorf says.
So how do you wangle an invitation to one of these exclusive classes? It's simple – buy an Audi, or be willing to. Audi dealers can invite existing or prospective customers, while Audi Australia can also invite customers – usually owners of the prestigious A8 or R8 models – or corporate clients.
But if an Audi isn't on your shopping list, all is not lost. Some of the company's "experiences" sit in the money-can-buy category – for a price.
One is the Audi racetrack experience in which customers can learn to steer a range of Audi cars around some of Australia's top racing circuits, with prices ranging from hundreds of dollars for a half-day incorporating simple techniques, to several thousands for a full race-day experience.