Audi’s unintentional product placement in Fifty Shades of Gray

Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey? I haven’t. Yet. But I might, just because there were 40 million copies of the series sold worldwide and I’m curious what all the fuss is about.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic novel by British author E. L. James (aka Erika Leonard). The story is set in Seattle and traces the relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a wealthy young businessman, Christian Grey. It includes explicitly erotic scenes featuring bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism. The book is the first part of the trilogy and is followed by Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.

Critical reception to Fifty Shades of Grey has been mixed and the book got labeled as “mummy porn”, due to its demographics. The book’s main fan base consists of married women over thirty, teenage girls and college women.


A few days ago I read some news reports about Audi’s involvement in the Fifty Shades trilogy. But for me the most interesting question is: will Audi feature heavily in the upcoming movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey?

Why exactly is that question interesting? Well, Fifty Shades of Grey could be one of the most exciting movie projects of 2013 or 2014, purely from entertainment point of view (the cast and release date is still unknown). It will almost certainly get loads of media coverage and debates all over social media.

Let’s check how Audi featured in Fifty Shades of Grey [possible spoilers].

The book is written in the first person and lead character Anastasia drives a VW Beetle: it’s mentioned 20 times. She also borrowed her friend’s Mercedes CLK roadster. Both (Mercedes and CLK) are mentioned twice.

Beetle in Fifty Shades of Grey (2011, Vintage Books, screen capture)


Anastasia’s friend Christian is a big Audi fan. Audi is mentioned 16 times and his entire car park consists of different Audi models. Perfect for Audi and the upcoming movie adaptation.

Audis in Fifty Shades of Grey (2011, Vintage Books, screen capture)


And Anastasia got another Audi as a birthday present.

Audi A3 in Fifty Shades of Grey (2011, Vintage Books, screen capture)


Here are some of Audi’s cars mentioned in the book.

Audi Q7

Audi R8

Audi A3


Reports suggest that Audi didn’t influence E.L. James to include their cars in the book and admitted that they were a bit surprised. But will we see them in the movie? Universal and Focus Features bought the rights to Ms. James’ trilogy for $5 million. Advertising Age reports that Ms. James has said it’s too early for casting, but the most likely one to get a role at this point is Audi.

I must admit that I’m really looking forward to Fifty Shades of Grey the movie, but at the moment purely for marketing reasons ;)


3 comments

  1. Some good points here, had great time reading this. Thanks.

  2. It may not be a perfect product placement deal, though. The brand’s got a lot of exposure in the trilogy, that’s clear, but I’m not sure if the brand image fits the book.
    I mean, I haven’t read the book myself, but I’m guessing that the book (and future films’) audience doesn’t fit the ones targeted by Audi…
    Audi’s marketing positionning is mainly about sports with a physical, masculine image, as it was featured in films like Iron Man and other race cars video games… Not sure if they’ll be interested in being associated and featured in a movie about an abusive man who’s into BDSM, in which most of its target are middle-aged women…

    Nevertheless, I still think the book’s insane popularity raises Audi’s brand awareness! (Kinda like Volvo in Twilight)

  3. I’ve read the books and can confirm that there is an excessive amount of product placement in the book. Between the Audi and numerous Apple products, sometimes it can feel like you’re reading an ad campaign.

    @Bola – Audi is portrayed in a very positive light throughout the book as being the “safest” choice of car (Christian buys it for all his lady companions as a protective measure.) So perhaps the target audience isn’t as far off as you say, that is if Audi wants to be known as a “safe” car.