AVON, CO – Both social media and Super Bowl advertising will continue to play key roles at Audi of America, as the auto maker looks to further extend brand awareness and better connect with its customer base, the U.S. arm’s new top executive says.

The merits of social-media marketing and the cost/benefit of Super Bowl commercials have come under scrutiny since General Motors earlier this year revealed it was pulling its advertising from Facebook and would not run TV spots at the National Football League’s championship game in February.

GM said the Super Bowl commercials were becoming too expensive, and although it will continue to run spots during other NFL playoff games, it is refocusing some of its ad dollars on events it sees as better buys, including European soccer.

Facebook advertising, the Detroit auto maker said, was proving ineffective overall. But it recently revived talks with the social-media site to explore new ways to collaborate in order to reach potential new-car buyers.

In one of his first interviews since taking over as president of Audi of America in late June, Scott Keogh, elevated from a position as the brand’s U.S. marketing chief, says there are no plans to follow GM’s lead away from the Super Bowl.

The German importer has been running TV spots during the game for the past five years, and Keogh says the ads have been integral to establishing Audi as a legitimate luxury brand in the U.S. In addition to the broadcast during last February’s game, Audi’s latest Super Bowl commercial, dubbed “Vampire Party,” has been viewed more than 7.5 million times on YouTube.

“While we only have 1% market share (in the U.S. overall), it’s important to act like a giant, even when you’re not,” says Keogh, adding Audi’s market standing has improved steadily since it began its Super Bowl run in 2008. “Awareness has gone up; opinion has gone up.”

The commercials also help reassure Audi owners they made the right purchase, he says.

The auto maker’s own research showed customers felt isolated, because they didn’t see many other Audis on the road.

Buyers said, “‘I buy it, but then I don’t see other people (driving Audis). I don’t hear from you that much. I don’t see you advertising,’” Keogh tells WardsAuto here at a media introduction of the ’13 model A4/A5 lineup.

“You start to run a Super Bowl spot and they say, ‘Yeah, that’s my brand.’”

Overall brand awareness has risen from 60% in 2006, prior to Audi’s Super Bowl campaigns, to 77% today, and purchasing consideration jumped from 33% to 60%, says Keogh, who took over marketing for the importer six years ago. Some 82% of consumers have a positive opinion of the marque, up from 55% five years ago, and brand loyalty has increased to 42% from 31%.

Less splashy, but far less expensive, social-media marketing is the target of increasing attention at Audi, as well.

“Budget-wise, it’s low,” Keogh says of his company’s social-media spend. “It doesn’t cost a lot of money. But the amount of effort we put behind it…I’d say 80% of our marketing has some social-media hook to it.”

He points to a recent move to loan an R8 to a social-media-active fan of the car, who then “lit up the Twitter-sphere” about it. That caught the attention of Twitter top executive Dick Costolo, who Keogh says treated the Audi action as a case study in how to use social media in a recent speech.

“If the CEO of Twitter is talking about Audi as the brand that does this right…there’s no ad I could do in any magazine that’s going to replicate that.”

Keogh says 48% of Audi’s U.S. customers are from Generations X and Y, a social-media-active group that is expected to account for 80% of U.S. luxury-vehicle purchases in 2020.

“I think this fits into our sweet spot,” he says.

The Audi executive also expects social media to play an even bigger role in customer-relations management (CRM), but he admits the importer still is getting its arms around the challenge of merging its various legacy customer databases into a single system that more effectively can track and communicate with its owner body through Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other Internet sites.

“We’re trying to glue this thing together so that when you come in for your service appointment we know your name, know your history and know what you need done,” Keogh says. “If you start to break that down into the world of social media, you have a powerful, near-term spontaneous tool that’s right there and active.

“We just haven’t figured it out yet,” he adds. “But I’m optimistic. CRM is where (social media’s) truly going to show its strength. And for our brand, it’s perfect.”

dzoia@wardsauto.com