2010 SuperBowl Ads: Audi Green Police Is As Green as it Gets?

Let’s face it, the Superbowl is watched by more Americans than any other single TV event.  Personally, my guess is that at least half of the people who watch it only watch it for the famous Superbowl ads.  They’re usually humorous (and this year, somewhat controversial, with the addition of the ad for an anti-abortion campaign starring Tim Tebow and the simultaneous censoring of an ad for a gay dating website).

This year, the familiar faces–beer companies, car makers, sellers of snack foods…the usual suspects–signed on for large sums of money to advertise their products. During the third quarter of the game, something occurred to me about this year’s commercials.  None of them, up to that point, had even mentioned sustainability.  I tried to search online but couldn’t really find anything relevant, but I seem to remember that in last year’s Superbowl ads, companies trumpeting their sustainability records, achievements, or product features, especially car ads featuring “best in class fuel efficiency.”

I had just finished a diatribe at the Superbowl party I was attending about whether the world had completely turned off to sustainability, when the first ‘green’ ad emerged.  A customer at a checkout counter is asked, “Paper or plastic?” and when he chooses plastic, he is arrested and taken away by the “Green Police.”

I found myself quickly regretting my karmic intrusion into the Superbowl programming, as the ad quickly turned into yet another perhaps well-intentioned ad that casts environmentalists, frankly, as wack-jobs.  I have to admit, I really started paying attention to see which companies had decided to advertise their product this way…

After the plastic vs. paper criminal, who was brutally handcuffed and taken away, another guy was hauled off for a “compost infraction” after he threw a rind into the trash. Another fellow for installing incandescent bulbs.  Perhaps the most offensive, to those of us in the sustainability movement was where an army of “Green Police,” prowling through people’s trash, finds a battery and storms the house of the offender.

While I suppose the ad execs who came up with it thought they were brilliant, I would only imagine most in the sustainability movement, like me, groaned at the implication that people who care about the environment are psychotic enough to prosecute people who choose plastic at the grocery store or don’t compost their scraps.  Ugh, Middle America just took another unneeded step away from feeling that sustainability is cool, easy, and normal.

Turns out the ad is for Audi’s new clean diesel car, which gets a free pass on a crowded highway to avoid traffic.  Here’s the ad.

I’d love to hear from some readers about whether they think this kind of marketing does more harm than good.  And how do you feel about Audi’s clean diesel, fairly fuel-efficient car, and brand as a result of the commercial?

Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business:  Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and founder of GreenBusinessVillage.com, an online green business incubator that helps small business owners with green initiatives at very affordable rates.

Scott Cooney, Principal of GreenBusinessOwner.com and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched GreenBusinessOwner.com, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.