Last week I posted an Linkage Over There about a superbowl Audi ad:
Well, if you’ve been reading along, I think you’ve figured out what the real message of this Audi advertisement is, but just in case you’ve been napping I will spell it out for you: Money and breeding always beat poor white trash. Those other kids in the race, from the overweight boys to the hick who actually had an American flag helmet to the stripper-glitter girl? They never had a chance. They’re losers and they always will be, just like their loser parents. Audi is the choice of the winners in today’s economy, the smooth talkers who say all the right things in all the right meetings and are promoted up the chain because they are tall (yes, that makes a difference) and handsome without being overly masculine or threatening-looking.
At the end of this race, it’s left to the Morlocks to clean the place up and pack the derby cars into their trashy pickup trucks, while the beautiful people stride off into the California sun, the natural and carefree winners of life’s lottery. Audi is explicitly suggesting that choosing their product will identify you as one of the chosen few. I find it personally offensive. As an owner of one of the first 2009-model-year Audi S5s to set tire on American soil, yet also as an ugly, ill-favored child who endured a scrappy Midwestern upbringing, I find it much easier to identify with the angry-faced fat kids in their home-built specials or the boy with the Captain America helmet.
While some dismissed this characterization, I thought it was rather spot-on. If this were a Chevy or a Nissan ad, I might think that some of the characterizations are happenstance, but this is an Audi ad. That means class is not incidental, but rather core, to the product. So we can likely assume anything involving class in the ad is likely intentional. And in this case, it did so in a rather politically skewed direction.
This ad was clearly conceived when it looked like Hillary Clinton was going to be the first female president. And in the run-up to the ad, Audi did a publicity blitz about its commitment to gender equality (hehe, hehe). It was aimed squarely at a particular segment of its clientele. But before we get too much into that, let’s talk about wine and cheese. For a few months, my Twitter feed contained this ad:
— Maria Santacaterina (@mcsantacaterina) November 13, 2015
There is some really intense social and class signaling going on in that ad. I mean, let’s count the ways: Name-checking the most exclusive university in the country, science!, whiteboard with code, Apple computer, elegant geek girl. It really has it all and it just screams New White Collar through and through. Which, if they’re selling a cultural service like wine, is a pretty good pitch! They know their likely audience. Being close to that audience myself, I actually think it’s pretty well done. Maybe a bit overkill, but I only have one foot in that pond.
Now, the Audi ad goes for a slightly different set. Older and wealthier. More likely for their to be a family involved. As the article says, the protagonist isn’t the girl so much as the dad. The dad with the girl to be proud of. The dad who is on the Right Side of History. The dad who doesn’t need an Audi to be good, but is good and Audi is good and let’s get together. The characterization of The Other is probably a necessary component to that because goodness needs something to be compared to. Something a little grubby and unclean. The ad, as a whole, makes its pitch by equating vanity for virtue. It’s not toxic to conservatives, but to the extent that it appeals to conservative it’s going to be the squishes, the #NeverTrump sort, and those whose sensibilities align with left at least in terms of cultural cues.
Now, lest anybody think I am wanting to pick on one side, it’s not hard to come up with an idea of something similar aimed at conservatives would look like. Even if we’re looking an ad seeking to confuse vanity and virtue – or is it vulgarity and virtue – for the well-to-do right. We don’t even need to leave the auto market. Or the luxury auto market. Or the Superbowl.
A visceral yell. A combination of individualism and group (patriotic so it’s okay) achievement. My accomplishments are mine, your accomplishments are ours. It speaks to some less savory impulses in the same way the Audi ad does. Get this because you’ve earned it. Hard work! While the Audi focuses on a degree of innate you-are-evolved goodness, this one focuses on work and achievement. Which sounds good, if you kind of glide past the part where his achievements are his and others’ achievements are ours. But go America! This struck a positive chord with the people it was meant to, and a negative chord for others.
But just as you know the dad in the Audi ad didn’t vote for Trump, you’re pretty sure this guy did. This guy is, more or less, what I think of when I pass by the house of the guy that had the Trump flag in his yard. Really nice house. Obviously, the person was well off. Given that they put a flag in their yard, along with a Gadsden, suggests that he probably supported Trump throughout. That house has (surprise surprise) a full-size pickup in the driveway. Which is kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum as the electric car this guy is pitching.
Which is actually sort of the point. If the Audi ad is telling a well-to-do liberal that it’s okay to have a car that only rich people can afford because you’re good, this ad was telling future Trumpers that it’s okay to have an electric car because it indicates hard work and you work hard because you’re an American.
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