Monday, February 08, 2010

The Green Police

This was the only Superbowl commercial that caught my attention last night, and boy did it ever.

What the Hell does it mean? My first reaction was note to self: never, even if you can ever afford it, buy an Audi, ever. But then I thought, maybe its depiction of an environmentalist police state is a parody of over-the-top eco-mania. (Note that, in the second shot of the eco roadblock vignette, one of the cops seems to be using a contraband-sniffing aardvark.) If so, it misfired as far as I'm concerned.

I know, I know, their main message is that buying their car will be proof of your environmentalist virtue, but this seems like a creepy way to say that.

Here is an analogy: (Hat-tip to a commenter on Hit and Run) In a movie set in the holocaust, the protagonist is in a death camp, mayhem and death is all around him. Just as it seems it is his turn to be killed, the Kommandant summons him to his office: "We have discovered you are not a Jew after all. You are free to go." He walks out of the camp smiling: happy ending. Obviously, the makers of such a movie do not appreciate how evil the holocaust was. Similarly, the makers of this add do not seem to appreciate the oppressiveness of the behavior they are depicting in it.

BTW, note that the bit about the incandescent bulb is barely fictional. I love the warm, true, continuous-spectrum light of incandescent bulbs and loathe the cold, false, jagged-spectrum light of fluorescent sources, and that I suppose is another reason I'm not in the mood to laugh at this.
Uptdate: Evidence of satirical intent: it turns out the firm that made the commercial is based in San Francisco, where it actually is illegal to put an orange rind in your sink (because you're supposed to compost it). That doesn't necessarily mean the ad is coherent and not-creepy, though. See the comments thread, below.


Anonymous said...

I think these ads reflect the generation x or y "30-somethings" young executives in the media and ad agencies who have a more flippant view of these issues. As baby-boomers, we're like the ol' codgers of our parents' generation perhaps who take these issues more seriously.

As opposed to the cigarette ads of the 60's where someone "lit up" and seriously puffed as if they were ingesting life saving fluids, the newer ads have a more self-mocking quality of the ad culture.

The Audi ad (I think) was meant to be pure silliness but like our folks, "I don't think that's funny son."

Ann said...

I thought it was totally creepy and especially because it did attempt to incorporate irony. You hit the nail on the head - the guy in the car is morally indifferent to the police state tactics going on all around him. BTW, a couple of Twitter posts last night about this ad pointed out that the name of the Dutch gestapo during the Nazi era was the 'green police'. It's amazing no one at Audi vetted this before the ad aired.

I remember the opposite kind of super bowl ad from Apple in 1984 when the babe in red smashed through the thought-police Big Brother types. Apple message then: you are a thinking, free individual with the power to stand up to a totalitarian world order and change it. Audi message now: you're a meek little joe and if you smile and keep your head down, and live the politically-correct life demanded by the eco-fascists, they'll leave you alone to enjoy your tiny, shackled existence. We've come a long way, baby. :-(

Lester Hunt said...

A commenter on another blog pointed out that Audi was very cozy with the Nazis back in the thirties. Late in that decade the Fuehrer had them design a super racer so they could win the Grand Prix for the glory of the Faterland. There are still a few "Hitler race cars" around, and they are considered ueber-collectible.

Anonymous said...

I think the ad cuts to the reason why Al Gore flies to Global Warming Conferences in private jets, owns a fleet of suv's and a multi-room oil burning mansion. Most of the people depicted are from the lower socio-economic classes compared to the typical Audi owner. I say most because the guy arrested for the light bulb seems self assured, wealthier and confident he will be exhonerated by a lawyer as opposed to the kooky guy running from the hot tub.

Few will spend 50 or 60k on an Audi because it's environmentally correct as opposed to a Prius purchaser. The ad is satirical and catchy, which is what ads (Super Bowl ads especially) are meant to be.

Mark M said...

I commented yesterday that I simply do not understand this ad. I think the parody of the green movement is actually quite good. However, from a marketing standpoint, if they do indeed believe in the parody they created (which, presumably they do, because it simply cannot be construed as in any way friendly to the movement), then it undercuts the whole point of the product they are selling.

Put differently, if you bifurcate the the market b/w 1) those skeptical of "green" policies and 2) those in favor, I think the ad appeals to neither and in some ways offends both.

Lester Hunt said...


Interesting! I think what you are pointing out is that this ad is an example of what Hintikka called a "performative contradiction": ie., an utterance whose propositional content undermines the act one is trying to carry out by uttering it. (Eg., any statement of solipsism: if other people don't exist, what's the point of saying it?) The folks at Audi are trying to sell cars to environmentalists, which requires them to assume that environmentalism is good. But they are depicting it as bad.

Cool! It's not that easy to find examples of performative contradictions.

Anonymous said...

I think the ad has the same appeal as a beef company saying that their livestock are slaughtered humanely.