“Vorsprung durch technik” and it was a Brit that came up with the slogan!
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“Vorsprung durch technik” has been Audi’s main German tagline everywhere in the world since 1971 (except for the United States, where the slogan is “Truth in Engineering”).
While the phrase has been translated in several ways, the online dictionary LEOtranslates “Vorsprung” as “advance” or “lead” as in “distance, amount by which someone is ahead in a competition.” Audi roughly translates it as: “Advancement through technology.”
At the time, popular perceptions of Germany — in Britain at least — were still wrapped up in the legacy of the past. “Don’t mention the war,” barked Basil Fawlty, but people still did.
A three-word slogan, drawled lugubriously by Geoffrey Palmer in a series of Audi ads, changed all that. “Vorsprung durch Technik” became a motto for a nation that was putting the past behind it and restyling itself as a byword for quality, efficiency, progress and technology.
The story of how a Brit coined Germany’s most ubiquitous postwar slogan is already an advertising industry legend.
“I had gone to Ingolstadt and found the factory and I saw a very old faded poster on the wall that someone had left up there,” Hegarty says. “I saw this line ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’. They said that was an old advertising line but ‘we don’t use it any more’. And it stuck in my brain.”
Hegarty had no idea what it actually meant (“progress through technology”) but once he’d been told, the idea stuck. “This is the incidental nature of creativity, looking, watching, hearing stuff and it all goes in.” Later, when the admen were looking for a phrase to tie all the commercial work together, the phrase popped back at him. “Everyone looked at me as though I was mad,” says Hegarty. No one really used foreign languages to advertise in those days. But the client went with it, and soon it was a catchphrase of mid-1980s Britain.
“It was the first time certainly that a foreign phrase captured the public’s imagination in that way,” Hegarty recalls. “There was a history (with Germany). There was the possibility of rubbing people up the wrong way, but it’s amazing how it took off and how it became a part of British culture.”
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