That Superbowl ad (not the anti-abortion one; the other one)

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.

More like this

I'm with Roberts on this. The ad is clever because it works on more than one level. As he says, the message/payoff at the endâ when the guy in the Audi drives away with the approval of the 'green police'â just doesn't make sense if the ad is really directed at full-blooded enviroNazi haters. There's an acknowledgement of the moral authority of 'greenness' alongside the mockery. It's not that subtle is it?

For me, there's irony in the fact that most of the lampooned 'anti-green' infringements (using incandescent bulbs, styrofoam cups etc) are trivial compared to the big structural changes in energy/transport etc needed to do anything meaningful for climate change and energy sustainability. Like some of the folk this ad is aimed towards, I sometimes find well-intentioned green nagging irksome and irrelevant. Perhaps that's why I found it quite funny.

Like you say, though, the suggestion that an Audi TDI is really such a 'green' choice is pretty laughable. Maybe if it was a bike or train...

I have to agree with Dave Roberts. Audi are not saying that environmentalism is wrong, they are saying it is a necessity. The fact is that the Audi driver is being environmentally friendly.

They are saying that is imperative we act in an environmentally friendly way and that we will only need the 'green police' if we don't change our behaviour ourselves.

If we drive environmentally cars such as theirs etc, we then won't need the green police as they will be unnecessary â so if you don't like the idea of the green police than start becoming environmentally friendly, yourselves, now.

Also I think you are overstating the Nazi inference, this commercial was undoubtedly written by an American, for an American audience- after all what else could they have called them?

Wow. You guys need a life. It is a joke commercial guys. Time for some beach time after that grant is written dude.

By BostonERDoc (not verified) on 09 Feb 2010 #permalink

I agree with you and Adam Siegel, Revere. Audi cynically tries to have it both ways--to appeal to those who despise environmental concerns and who characterize environmentalists in myriad negative ways, and to then beat the environmentalists at their own game by saying, "Are you talking to me? You can't touch me, because my car is greener than yours! So just leave me the heck alone!" The Audi TDI driver doesn't simply drive on from the roadblock--he blasts away from it, seemingly laughing all the way at the inanity he left behind.

A deeply cynical advertisement, even without the historical resonance.

Joe Romm at climateprogress also takes on this ad:…

I tend to agree that the ad appeals to the worst stereotypes of the environmental movement. I also think it's sad that the environmentally responsible choice in the ad is buying a diesel-powered sports car that gets slightly better mileage than its gasoline equivalent.

Geodoc is totally right about this being a distraction from the more significant steps we can take collectively to mitigate climate change.

By ChicagoMike (not verified) on 09 Feb 2010 #permalink

My first reaction, on Twitter, was:

"Prius triggers femiphobia. With Audi one can be green without one's beer-buddies questioning one's masculinity."

Perhaps I read Stephen Ducat too much....

OK, I'll bite. What IS that animal on a leash in the roadblock scene???

Presumeably a pet/service animal with a smaller carbon footprint than a dog?

I agree with Revere and Roberts. The AD was very carefully crafted to appeal to both teabaggers and those environmentalists who don't have it in them to take direct action. It was also made to convey to those environmentalists the idea that the Audi sports car can make you be both socially responsible and have fun, which is of course a lie. Let's hope other car companies don't learn from this, or mitigating climate change will become close to impossible.

I agree with geodoc -

The green police in this commercial focus on minor infractions by consumers and completely let off the hook the large corporations and governmental agencies whose decisions impact the environment on a mass scale. Furthermore, the green police are shown using abusive tactics to invade people's privacy - using the checkout girl to setup the plastic bag guy, surveillance of the home, and last time I checked you need a warrant to use evidence from domestic trash in court.

This advertisement has generated greatly mixed reactions -- on both sides of the political spectrum.

While Audi sought to have fun with this, Jonah Goldberg's line (from the right) was:

Until the pitch for Audi intrudes, you'd think it was a fun parody from a right-wing free-market outfit about the pending dystopian environmental police state

PS: Glad you agree with me. Perhaps you might wish to link to the original post which, by the way, has a lot more material in it since originally posted/reacted to by Roberts: The Most Environmentally Unfriendly Super Bowl Ad

I'm gonna go with ERDoc on this. The commercial and this ANAL yzation of it is a complete waste of pixels. And the Green Police reference ? oh fuckin puhleese...

This year in SB commercials was one of the least entertaining/memorable that I can recall. Most trying too hard be quirky,kool,bizarre-whatever I dunno... just frickin stupid,really.

At least it was a great game (and the right team won ;) )

Oh, and the TDI is still an object of desire, the commercial notwithstanding

Adam: Sorry about the link getting lost. It was supposed to be there but I am writing a grant and I'm not always there, if you know what I mean. I just added it.

glock: I'm not so dismissive of this. Over 100 million people saw this and the message wasn't all that subliminal. I'm not usually very sensitive about this stuff but this one felt like a whack with a 2 by 4.

I'm not one to judge any individuals sensitivities to a given stimulus but I found myself feeling subconscious a while back when I called out to my elderly uncle....TOM, in a busy public place. I actually got more than a couple incredulous glances, (for my obvious insensibility) and thought, "You have got to kidding me"!

Not subliminal at all I agree, but my take is that they took every trite, stereotypical reference they could make work and used it in the pursuit of edgy slaptsick humor, then used the ole gratuitous aardvark (or anteater..whatever) ploy to shore up the shaky endeavor with a last nervous giggle.

Having been involved in more than a few print and TV shoots
(I'm a photographer) I can tell you that the bullshit and ass covering that goes on is epic. That the green police reference could slip past the typically younger "creative teams" on both the agency and client sides does not surprise me at all as neither I or most other "creatives" I know were big on history in school, if you know what I mean. The Nazi Ordnungspolizei is a new one on me, and I've been on the planet for a while. Agreed my ignorance is no excuse, but I don't see a conspiracy, recklessness,or insensitivity here, just an odd animal created by committee.

glock: I'm not so fixed on the Orpo part of this, but I do agree with Adam Siegel that it is odd that the same phrase, "green police," is used by a German car company as for a fascist police apparatus and that the police in the ad are acting fascistically. Coincidence? Possibly, or possibly a subconscious reference. But I am not at all big on Nazi analogies and I didn't get this one either, if it is one. But I did feel an immediate and strong sense that this ad was panering to some of the worst tropes of the far right anti-environmentalist crowd.

My take on this add, is that is pokes fun at the paranoid right, and a stabs at the eco-obsessed left. It's perfect. That so many are confused about the message is even more the point. If you're confused, it isn't meant for you.

It's an obvious satire, it's fun, the music, and the shorts, the whole thing. So you know from the start that it's an exageration of the desires and fears of both ends.

The target audience that get's it perfectly? The men in the middle. He gets to drive away from the crazies in the cool car. He wants to do the right thing, he's earned it, and he's the only one in the commercial not hemmed in by either the fantasy or ideologies of the rest of the world.

By lilorphant (not verified) on 09 Feb 2010 #permalink

Boston ERdoc...The ad is already being used by far right columnist Jonah Goldberg in an op-ed in the LA Times. Just a funny joke ad eh?


FWIW, I just got some time and was able to peruse Adams
post and I now see that Audi WAS aware of the Orpo association
and tested the spot 1st (the right way to do it) it appears to have been blessed by appropriate anti def leaders as well .

I still think it was just a lousy,though harmless, spot, but I hear you.

As a German, I can at least, hopefully, comment on your suspicion that a German company must have known that the "green police" would be considered a Nazi symbol. That particular colour choice was not known to me, though it obviously should have shown up in research. Police uniforms were blue in the 1960s, switched to green in West Germany in the 1970s, and are currently in the process of once more switching to blue. I'm unaware of a political interpretation of those colours.

As for what might be next, how about a German chemical company, indeed a successor company to the IG Farben coglomerate that produced the gas used at Auschwitz, choosing to advertise not only itself as "_the_ chemical company" (IG Farben, indeed, was a near monopoly in chemical processes on a global, not just a national scale) but also its "invisible contributions" to "visible success". Yes, just like hydrogen cyanide is invisible. (The company in question is BASF, for what it's worth, and they ran these commercials for years, even after criticism.)

But at least that wasn't during the Super Bowl.

If anyone noticed; by tweaking the background music of Cheap Trick's anthem "Dream Police" to "Green Police", me thinks enuff said. It was a Superbowl Ad not Steinbeck...

I don't want to push this too far but again, Revere and Roberts are, I believe, correct. The Green Police in the video are sort of a dumbed down, humouristic, 1984-esque police force. It is funny yes, it is a car commercial yes, but at the same time, there are four subliminal messages in the ad:

1) Environmentalists are attempting to police everyone in the name of nature, through a special Green Police, similar to the Ordnungspolizei or the Gestapo.

2) The Green Police is willing to resort to drastic measures to further it's political goals, such as arrests for minor crimes, like using incandescent light bulbs.

3) By driving the Audi car, the Green Police will let you pass - metaphor: the Audi car is your ticket out of environmentalist tyrany.

4) The Audi car is eco-friendly - which is false - therefore, you can feel good about driving it and not worry about the consequences to the environment.

I seriously doubt that this video was made without any political motivations. Audi is a car company. Audi doesn't want people to stop buying their cars because of environmental concerns. A good way to circumvent the problem then is to demonize the environmentalist movement and make it look authoritarian to the average man.

If you think I'm exaggerating, do the following: Watch the video again and turn off the sound. Removing the happy music will make you see the Green Police for what it is.

I almost fell out of my chair when I saw the ad. On one level it was funny and laughing caused me to fall out of my chair (with some help from the wine), but on the other level it was truly scary.

Besides the police tactics of the Nazis and Stalin, my thoughts also ran to mullahs in search of infidels or inquisitors hunting for heretics. Environmentalism is one of those issues which is both political, and religous in a Gaia kind of way. It transcends nationalism in favour of globalism, exactly the kind of ideology that appeals to the one worlders, a movement born in Europe BTW.

I was left with the thought that these folks are letting us know whats coming down the road. As George Carlin said, only the inconvenient or forbidden truth gets laughs. The truth in this ad presented as humour says, "well here it is, it's coming, and you can't stop it, so we don't mind letting you know, knowing most of you will refuse to believe it anways, so enjoy the laugh ".

Some question the ability of a few to control the future and present. However, as one of the neocons said to some media members during the Bush administration, IIRC it went something along the lines: "we create your reality, and do not need to explain ourselves, all you can do is try to keep up with what we are doing". Control the present and you control the past, control the past and you control the future.

When false paridigms (past and present) are taught in the schools, by teachers who have themselves been taught the false paridigm, or who simply go along with it out of self-interest, and where government and media perpetuate the paradigm, the accepted truth can be a big lie, and the real truth becomes the lie, and in some cases speaking the truth becomes a revolutionary act. There is a reason the emperor has no clothes story has legs. The masses can be convinced to accept any lie as truth, simply repeat it often enough, and show that it is a consensus or accepted by a majority of people, and ridiucle those in the minority who dare say otherwise, and thats all it takes. Having money and power to influence media (ownership, sponsors), education (grants, endowments) and government (campaign financing, jobs/directorships in big business for regulators/congressmen), and an attractive ideology (free trade, world markets, corporate government, elite as philosopher kings) to unite the elites is all it takes.

History has taught the youth are the most easily recruited for self-policing in totalitarian regimes that serve the rich, religous and/or political elites. Thats why Obamas call for recruiting students for a civilian security force, which includes a Clean Energy Force, chills many who have some knowledge as to how totalitarian regimes come to power and stay in power.

The elites, who make up 0.1-1% of the population, can afford to buy the state sponsored religions/party car (or whatever) of choice, and thus pay for priveleged status, and a free pass from harassment by the security force that terrorizes the non-elites. Of course, as Mao has shown, sometimes these youth and security foces can be turned on the elites as well. In fact, Stalin executed many of those who participated in the Bolshevik revolution. So even being one of the elite does not offer complete protection in regimes where rights are priveleges.

We may not be there yet, but we are heading in that direction, and most of the people will go along with it, they will just be told it is needed to keep them safe following another disaster blamed on terrorists (or with climate those who have a larger carbon footprint than they can afford will become the terrorists).

That said, it was a great commercial. The game was not bad either.

The commercial is stupid. If one wished to "Be Green", one takes public transportation. That Audi may be a fine car and I wouldn't mind having one myself . . . But a private automobile is not "Green"!

Well, hold on for a sec. The TDi is significantly more fuel efficient than the, for example V6, V8, and V10 gaz models Audi currently churns out for the North American market. They sell far more diesel in Europe, where the price of energy (any form) has pushed people to "greener" choices for years.

So, no, it's no bicycle, but hell, for a sports car? Fantastic.

(My 20 year old Audi Coupe is far better on gas and way faster off a start than your 2010 Mustang!)

The anti-environmentalists are not going to like this ad- or this car. It's not out of Motown. It's not big three.

With that song in the background, and the green cop on the segway going after the real cop, this ad was targeted at me: the young person who likes cars, speeds a little, and won't overthink it. I have a feeling the American marketing department didn't make the Nazi/German car connection you did. They're clever, but they tend to be more sensitive than most consumers, and that's an awful connotation.

I have a girlfriend I can't drive to her parents' house because they're Jewish and they would have a fit if they saw her get out of a German car. Marketers know this connection exists- they're not exactly going to go there on purpose.

Or maybe I'm biased. I like Audi. Though they have the WORST acronym: Volkswagen-Audi Group. Ooops.

I thought it was the best add in years. I saw it as a direct hit at the Prius commercials. I hate the Pious (sic) commercials touting their blessing the world with their creation. I have a 2001 TDI Jetta with 295K miles that gets 49 mpg. Some "superior" gas milage for the added cost of the hybrid. I wonder how many times I would have had to shuck out the green that counts for new batteries.

Yeah. Trying to prevent a "how green WAS our valley" as we fight being displaced by a windturbines project here, I've learned a great deal about the corporate greenwash involved in windfarm development. Indeed, we see parts of financially desperate states like Oregon, Washington, Indiana, etc. turn themselves into raw-energy exporters at the expense of their other resources, quality of life, etc. Yet wind energy, with its longline transmission and its use, in many cases, mainly as a tax-credits and carbon-offset credits device by its recipients (and by windturbine producers) is not much greener than those individual autos.

I was 11 when I came to Germany in late 1945, after the end of the war. I have not known anything ever in my life that the Nazi Ordnungspolizei had green uniforms. Ask any German - hardly anybody will know this. But the police wear green uniforms, now, who control highway traffic and airport security etc..

So you may discuss the role and image of the police used in this ad - but leave out the green uniform with any reference to the Nazi Ordnungspolizei. That is just ridiculous. Green is green - now.

By Norbert Klein (not verified) on 13 Feb 2010 #permalink