Controversy was sparked recently when Audi aired a new car commercial featuring "green police" arresting polluters for environmental infractions. The ad which ran during last Sunday's Super Bowl, promoted Audi's new car, the A3 TDI diesel.
In the imagined green police state, checkpoints were set up to enforce strict environmental regulations.
Predictably, the new car with the fuel efficient Audi "green" diesel engine was waved forward with a smile.
On the other hand, violators were charged with throwing away batteries, using plastic credit cards, and overheating swimming pool water.
Some argued the ad had "fascist" overtones, both for its satirical characterization of the environmental movement and also for the not-so-subtle links to Germany's fascist past. The Audi corporation apparently had strong ties to Hitler and the Nazi movement. "Green police" was also the name of the Nazi uniformed police force. Graham Jukes of San Francisco's Brasscheck TV wrote: "Millions of dollars were spent conceiving, producing and running this ad during last Sunday's Super Bowl. Did you find it funny? I sure didn't. And when you consider that the advertiser helped itself to slave labor during the Nazi era, it's a whole lot less funny."
The New York Times commented: "This misguided spot put the 'mental' in 'environmental'."
San Francisco's tough pro-environment Mayor Gavin Newsom, on the other hand, tweeted during the Super Bowl, "That 'green police' Audi commercial hits home."
The mayor and many others saw the ad as simply a humorous effort to make an environmentally friendly point and sell cars at the same time.
The Plastics Division of the American Chemical Company took offense to the demonizing of plastic in the ad and immediately put up a web site promoting its eco-friendly attributes. "Many people," they say, may be "surprised at the environmental benefits of plastics."
Gregory Unruh, writing for the Huffington Post, says the ad cleverly points to an ongoing debate over the definition of sustainability: "In all seriousness, the ad captures a very real and ongoing struggle to define what exactly sustainability means for industry. It's widely recognized that ‘sustainability' is a term that can mean different things to everyone and every business."
Audi's goal, then, is to define the word on its own terms with respect to cars. He continues, "For decades, diesel cars in the U.S. have had reputations as polluters, conjuring images of black smoke billowing from the stacks of freight trucks on the highway. But Audi and other European manufactures are working to change the U.S. attitude and mindset toward diesels."
The bottom line is that business is attempting to define the word on its own profit-friendly terms and, as Unruh concludes, given the huge sums spent on Super Bowl advertising, "the stakes are rising."
And who cares if the ad conjures symbolism of Germany's not-so-distant Nazi past: apparently not Audi, especially if it meets the corporate bottom line.
The Audi ad: