Does Audi's 'Green Police' Superbowl Ad Reveal a Shifting Paradigm? (Video)


Photo via World Sports Tribune

Much has been made of this year's generally crappy Super Bowl ads. But in the green community, one ad has been showing up repeatedly on just about every enviro blog out there: the Audi "Green Police" ad. We even covered it here before the game, where it was already causing a stir. And that stir isn't over the product or the company selling the product. It's over the ad's bizarre method of selling that product--essentially demonizing overzealous environmentalists to get people to buy an environmentally responsible product. Sound counter intuitive? It might be. But it also might be an ingenious way of ushering an era where sustainability is the standard, whether anyone likes it or not.First of all, here's the ad:

Now, what are your first thoughts? Insulting? Over the top? Stupid? Funny?

Many bloggers and commentators lamented that it damaged the image of environmentalists. The perplexing ad led climate blogger Joe Romm to write a post aptly titled Worst (green) Superbowl commercial ever -- or best? In the post he wonders if the German car company recognizes that these caricaturizations, intended to be humorous, are precisely how many conservatives perceive of environmentalists. He goes on to say:

But I do wonder about an advertising strategy whereby you basically poke fun at (some exaggerated version of) the zealousness of your target audience and would-be customers -- people who care about the environment ... Of course, it's possible Audi isn't actually targeting people who actually care about the environment....
Which brings us to the point raised by Grist's Dave Roberts, who says that instead of intending to simply make fun of too-serious enviros, the ad is actually built on the premise that most people (or at least the target car-buying demographic) have already accepted that behaving sustainably is the moral choice to make. 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.

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 desireable 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.

And I think Roberts' take is the most interesting--that the ad assumes that the educated person (as people with enough money to buy Audis are, more likely than not) now knows enough about basic environmental responsibility to accept that acting sustainably has a recognized moral value, and that they're in a position to laugh at those who take it too far--just so as long as they do, however hesitantly, make the moral choice in the end.

The ad's not making fun of people who are too concerned with environmentalism because it thinks that behavior is wrong--far from it. It's making fun of the zealousness, because it assumes the actions depicted are those that common knowledge holds we all know we should be doing.

Which leads me to wonder if, in Audi's Green Police ad, we may be witnessing a shifting paradigm--to the true, if even begrudging, mainstreaming of green.

More on Mainstream Environmentalism
Will the Real Green Movement Please Stand Up?
Jerome Ringo: A New Face for a New Environmentalism ?

Related Content on