Like tens of millions (probably hundreds of millions globally) I watched the Superbowl on Sunday. With such an audience, ad time is notoriously and extravagantly expensive and some ads are only run once, at that venue (e.g., the famous Apple “1984” ad). For some people the ads are as much an attraction as the game, so it is sad to report that this year they were relatively unfunny and, as one blogger noted, unusually ugly and misogynist in flavor. But the ad that has drawn the attention of those interested in a cleaner and greener world was from automaker Audi and it has drawn two very different reactions.
In case you didn’t see it, here it is:
My own response was more in line with Adam Siegel’s. I found it offensive, appealing to the worst subliminal messages of the far right about environmentalists, or as they like to refer to us, envirofascists, or better, enviroNazis. The latter is of particular relevance to Siegel who points out that “the green police” was the term given to the Nazi Ordnungspolizei (the order police, or Orpo), a central organ of the fascist state who wore green uniforms. While most Americans wouldn’t be aware of this connotation, a German automobile company certainly would. And the actions of “the green police” in this ad are certainly everyone’s idea of how police act in a fascist state, viciously punishing people for minor infractions seen to be counter to the state’s ideology. If this is what a green future looks like, most people don’t want it, even if it means that driving an Audi is OK.
Dave Roberts over at Gristmill had a very different view:
At first blush this seems like more teabagging?appealing to angry white men with the same old stereotype of environmentalists as meddling do-gooders obsessed with picayune behavioral sins. If you check in the comments under the video, that perspective is well represented. Says Metallicafan6611, ?You guys all laugh. But this is really going to happen. Wake up people! Stop being sheep!? Enviros are predictably steamed (see, e.g., Adam Siegel).
The more I?ve thought about it, though, the more the teabaggy interpretation just doesn?t quite fit. The thrill at the end, when the guy gets to accelerate away from the crowd, turns on satisfying the green police?not rejecting or circumventing them, but satisfying their strict standards. The authority of the green police is taken for granted, never questioned. If you?re looking to appeal to mooks who think the green police are full of it and have no authority, moral or otherwise, why would you make a commercial like that? Why offer escape from a moral dilemma your audience doesn?t acknowledge exists?
The ad only makes sense if it?s aimed at people who acknowledge the moral authority of the green police?people who may find those obligations tiresome and constraining on occasion, who only fitfully meet them, who may be annoyed by sticklers and naggers, but who recognize that living more sustainably is in fact the moral thing to do. This basically describes every guy I know.
Now go back through the ad. Notice that everyone who gets busted is a man. There are lots more urban and suburban professional males in Audi?s target market than there are teabaggers.
To scratch one layer deeper: what is Audi?s message to these guys who want to be good but find the effort anxious-making? Here?s a way to meet your green obligations and still have a bad-ass car! The Audi A3 is both green and desirable?indeed more desirable because it?s green. Buried deep in this ad, in other words, is a bright green message: prosperity, pleasure, and sustainability can be achieved together. (Dave Roberts at Gristmill RSS feed; site was down)
Wow. This is seeing stuff in a way only an English lit graduate student could compete with. While acknowledging some might think he was over thinking this ad, Roberts advanced the idea it wasn’t anti environmentalist but an appeal to a new demographic, one that isn?t hard-core environmentalist?and doesn?t particularly like hard-core environmentalists?but that basically wants to do the right thing.”
What’s next? That Audi makes the trains run on time? No, I guess a car company wouldn’t want that. Roberts must be right.