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

Scott Cooney | Monday February 8th, 2010 | 29 Comments

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.


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  • Winston Smith

    Green ad scared Hell outa me. It showed the eco-Marxists to be the extreme collectivists that they are fast becoming. Surprised that the gulags and 're-education camps' with the serpentine wire weren't highlighted.

  • Steve851

    The Audi commercial was offensive. It does nothing for the green movement. It reminds us of the heavy-handed aspects of government. I'm sure it will help Tea Party recruitment. Whatever agency came up with the idea for the ad should be fired by the end of the day. Just plain awful.

  • hughtyrrell

    Typical of the bubble world that so many ad agencies live inside. I know I was there. About 20 years ago. There is a raft of new social psychology research coming out informing the messaging of environmental sustainability that makes these kind of approaches not only archaic but highly unprofessional, let alone irresponsible. They – the Audi US brand management and their agency – are way out of touch. I would strongly recommend that the agency and the brand manager/markjeitng director are twittered/facebooked/flamed and shamed and made to account for taking the US sustainability movement back many years at a time when there isn't any to lose.

  • nickaster

    I agree that the Audi Ad they ran during the SuperBowl was really really bad. I'm particularly annoyed because I thought the teasers they ran earlier were hilarious (I wrote about them here) even though they had nothing to do with Audi.

  • ridgekeeper

    This was a horrible ad whose timing could not have been worse. As more and more people get upset with too much government involvement, this confirms that they are saying….at the point where they go through your trash.

  • http://twitter.com/ADrauglis Art Drauglis

    The ads actually do Audi much more harm then good. “The Green Police” was also the term used to describe a civilian police force (the “Ordnungspolizei” ) with green uniforms which operated in Germany from 1936-45. One of their chief functions was to round up Jews and those who harbored them. They would burst into people's homes looking for infractions.
    No one at Audi (a German company, one should remember) or their agency googled the term “green police” before proceeding.
    It is a poorly realized campaign which is more likely to harm Audi than anyone involved with or concerned about ecological issues.

  • Seth

    I thought it was hilarious. Made good eco points with a sense of humor. I can't wait until there are eco police!

  • kws

    I thought it was a great ad and can see why the watermelons don't like it. :D

    • http://GreenBusinessVillage.com/ Scott Cooney

      Watermelons? Tell us more?

      • http://www.facebook.com/jen.boynton Jen Boynton

        Green on the outside, red on the inside, I think.

  • Jason

    Great commercial! Don't you love the freedom of speech! Wait……. some of you don't like dissenting views if it doesn't follow the narrative which you find acceptable. Good luck with trying to shut down this down, I pity your oppressive views.

    • http://GreenBusinessVillage.com/ Scott Cooney

      Hi Jason,
      No one here has mentioned anything about shutting anything down. As sustainability mavens, we don't like being cast as wack-jobs. Most of us are very very normal people who like to drink beer and listen to music. I don't know any of us that have gone through another person's trash, and I think the implication that we would is what some people are objecting to, as well as the implication that BIG GOVERNMENT is going to start penalizing otherwise good citizens for poor eco-performance.
      Do you care to clarify your comments?

    • nickaster

      Freedom of speech? Who said anything about shutting something down? How old are you, Jason? Your primitive reaction to this conversation illustrates its point, sadly.

  • benatmediacurves1

    MediaCurves.com conducted a national study among thousands of Super Bowl viewers taking online surveys during the game. Final results found that commercial of Super Bowl XLIV. All Super Bowl ads from 2010 can be seen along with their individual ratings and scores at: http://www.mediacurves.com
    Thanks,
    Ben

  • danclark

    OK, So I can see the point of your article about the Audi spot since it was a green topic. Why the swipe at my man Tim? (full disclosure: I am a Gator, hold a marketing degree and can be found in church at least twice a week)

    The Pam Tebow ad was mild and said nothing about the political or moral aspects of the dreaded “A -word”. It was VERY politically correct and positive. The only controversy came from critics who went nuts before even seeing the spots. From a marketing and PR standpoint, I tend to over analyze these things but to take a step back; both are just TV ads. Buy an Audi or don't buy one. Visit the Focus on the Family website or don't. Free speech is a beautiful thing!

    • http://www.facebook.com/jen.boynton Jen Boynton

      well said Dan. Thanks for chiming in!

  • toddtheodore

    Love the green spot! Kinda want to buy an audi

    http://www.sdnn.com/sandiego/2010-02-08/sports/

    Take a look at The San Diego News Network's best and worst list and let the debate begin

  • Tish Lascelle

    I am a corporate sustainability director, and everyone here loved the commercial! It got passed around like lightening prior to the game. Sustainability is serious, to be sure, but that doesn't mean there's not humor in it! There are many studies that show negative messaging about the planet just don't work — it doesn't change behavior b/c it makes people despair; they believe the problem is too large for one person to make a difference. Audi's humor was fun and timely — We've been pelted with 'the sky is falling' environmental messaging for a long time and personally, I crave optimism in the discussions about our planet (i.e., that Americans are nothing but ingenious when we put our minds to our problems). At least Audi gave us the 'change a lightbulb' kind of messages in a way that was more memorable. I enjoyed the laugh and when I'm ready for a new car (at 223,000 miles on my Honda now, I'm aiming for 300,000 before its retirement) the Audi A3 diesel will get my consideration.

    • Linda

      I agree. A positive humourous approach to environmentalism is desperately needed. Many corporations are afraid of stepping up and speaking out for fear of backlash. We need to encourage companies that take a positive stand, whether they do it brilliantly or not-so-greatly.

  • http://nickpalmer.blogspot.com/ Nick Palmer

    Hey, I'm as green as they come but I found it really funny. The only problem is that there are too many people, in America particularly (neo-cons, libertarians and wing nuts generally) who will see it as reinforcing their prejudices. They still won't see that all of the actions jokily “policed” in the film are not very compatible with a sustainable future – all they will see is an authority telling them that they can't do something – which will undoubtedly cause them to have tantrums like two year old children.

    • Michael DeToro

      Good points Nick. I live in Belgium for the moment. I read several artlicles a day (on my time) on climate change even though currently not working in the field. Following the discourse in the states has sensitized me to the need for proper outreach. Those of us who recylce etc. can sit back and laugh at the ad. But as Nick rightly pointed out the problem is that those looking for anti-what-ever (big govt. big greens, big etc.) are fired up and form resistance movements. It's true we need to move from the doom and gloom only perpective. Humor done right could get through to those resisting the necessary changes that we as a species need to make. Thumbs down on the this Audi ad because it fundamenttally sends a mixed message: green is good but be very weary if the govt has to enforce it.

  • ddannywms

    The Audi ad was a comment on how far the pendulum has swung to the “all green, all the time” side. At first I wasn't sure what I was seeing, but have since reviewed this ad half dozen times and it makes me smile every time, a reaction I'm sure Audi was shooting for. I'd go so far as saying that in time, the Audi Green Police ad will be seen in the same light as the famous Apple Super Bowl ad in 1984. So far, no marketer has ever had the cahones to stand up to what has become a monolithic industry and it will be interesting to see how Audi weathers the coming storm.

    • http://GreenBusinessVillage.com/ Scott Cooney

      interesting comment Danny. Can you explain further what you mean by a 'monolithic industry'? Usually sustainability is not referred to as an industry in and of itself, but rather a facet that is part of all industries.

  • hmc77

    the offense some environmentalists feel toward this ad would be more understandable if cities like san francisco and countries like great britain weren't already policing green. i'm from that backward, little hole-in-the-ground called middle america, and i'm for conservation and recycling; but i am not for going all 1984 over it. cheers to audi for saying so with a sense of humor.

    • http://GreenBusinessVillage.com/ Scott Cooney

      Hi HMC77,
      Are you referring to the congestion tax levied in Britain for large cars to drive into the center of London? San Francisco, as you mentioned, is making waves by 'policing' waste disposal, mainly because the city was spending way too much of taxpayer dollars on landfill, and found that it could greatly reduce its costs if it diverted more waste to compost and recycling programs. Seattle and Portland, similarly. The program has been an unconditional success, and so far, there have been no 'arrests' or citations given, only warnings and education. If an offender continues to defy the new law, there is potential for repurcussions, but someone would really have to be a blatant repeat offender.

      Middle America is not a backward, little hole in the wall. I'm from there myself and I knew many people who were quite educated and progressive, and really cared about their public parks, their children's education, and about the legacy of waste we're leaving for our children to deal with.

  • Linda

    I agree. A positive humourous approach to environmentalism is desperately needed. Many corporations are afraid of stepping up and speaking out for fear of backlash. We need to encourage companies that take a positive stand, whether they do it brilliantly or not-so-greatly.

  • hmc77

    the offense some environmentalists feel toward this ad would be more understandable if cities like san francisco and countries like great britain weren't already policing green. i'm from that backward, little hole-in-the-ground called middle america, and i'm for conservation and recycling; but i am not for going all 1984 over it. cheers to audi for saying so with a sense of humor.

  • http://GreenBusinessVillage.com/ Scott Cooney

    interesting comment Danny. Can you explain further what you mean by a 'monolithic industry'? Usually sustainability is not referred to as an industry in and of itself, but rather a facet that is part of all industries.

  • http://GreenBusinessVillage.com/ Scott Cooney

    Hi HMC77,
    Are you referring to the congestion tax levied in Britain for large cars to drive into the center of London? San Francisco, as you mentioned, is making waves by 'policing' waste disposal, mainly because the city was spending way too much of taxpayer dollars on landfill, and found that it could greatly reduce its costs if it diverted more waste to compost and recycling programs. Seattle and Portland, similarly. The program has been an unconditional success, and so far, there have been no 'arrests' or citations given, only warnings and education. If an offender continues to defy the new law, there is potential for repurcussions, but someone would really have to be a blatant repeat offender.

    Middle America is not a backward, little hole in the wall. I'm from there myself and I knew many people who were quite educated and progressive, and really cared about their public parks, their children's education, and about the legacy of waste we're leaving for our children to deal with.

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