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The Most Environmentally Unfriendly Super Bowl Ad

February 7th, 2010 · 47 Comments

The $millions put into Super Bowl advertising cannot, in general, be seen as anything approaching environmentally friendly considering what is core to most of the messages: consume and, well, consume more. There are, of course, some advertisements that are wrapped in “green” and which have at least a (debatable) case to made that they are environmentally-sensible communications. For example, tthe General Electric 2009 advertisement re the Smart Grid (see here and after the fold) could be looked at as part of educating the public about the power and value of moving forward toward a Smart Grid. From a different angle, the PepsiCo decision to forgo Super Bowl ads (first time ever, $33 million in ads at the 2009 Super Bowl) to give grants for nominated causes based on online voting (see the Pepsi Refresh site — note, they want to collect email addresses for, we can assume, advertising purposes) could be framed as ‘green non-advertising at the Super Bowl’.

Notable for the 2010 Super Bowl, no “Hemi” or super max McSUV advertising. (There was, of course, the horrible Dodge ad …) Despite the bad beer ads and the amusing Dorito ads that are far from environmentally friendly, without question the most environmentally ad served a product that seeks to claim a green label.

Audi chose to promote their new car as a great environmentally friendly product, one that could evade ‘green police’ crackdowns on the highway.

This advertisement is offensive and counterproductive on many levels.

[NOTE: As noted to a comment below, this discussion’s logic actually follows somewhat the reverse of the  original reaction to the advertisement.  On reflection, I regret beginning with the ‘weakest’, most intellectually diversionary, and least consequential point when writing this post but do not see it as appropriate to do a total redraft to mask how it was originally written. The reaction began with seeing a 30-second reinforcing of ‘ecoNazi’ which then led to the discussion that now begins … ]

The Ordnungspolizei

The ‘green police’ is a term for Nazi police who were, among other things, implicated in the Holocaust.

The Ordnungspolizei (Orpo) was the name for the uniformed regular German police force in existence during the period of Nazi Germany, notably between 1936 and 1945. It was increasingly absorbed into the Nazi police system. Owing to their green uniforms, they were also referred to as Grüne Polizei (green police). … The Order Police played a central role in carrying out the Holocaust, as stated by Professor Browning:

It is no longer seriously in question that members of the German Order Police, both career professionals and reservists, in both battalion formations and precinct service or Einzeldienst, were at the center of the Holocaust, providing a major manpower source for carrying out numerous deportations, ghetto-clearing operations, and massacres

Thus, the German automobile manufacturer, Audi, has chosen to contain an oblique reference to a Nazi police unit that had a role in helping carry out the Holocaust. Evidently, Audi believes that Americans (or at least those watching the Super Bowl) know nothing of history.

Damaging framing of what it might mean to go green

The Audi advertisement has “Green Police” cracking down hard for real and imagined environmentally unfriendly actions. We see police taking a man down for choosing a plastic bag at the supermarket checkout. A horde of police are shown arresting someone at the door for having incandescent bulbs on their porch. What seems to be a SWAT team hit hot tub partiers and chase a man running from it in a bathing suit (his underwear?). And, well, there are other “Green Police” take downs of other real or imagined environmentally-unfriendly behavior, actions, and/or possessions. This is a promotion of a view of ‘going green’ that suggests heading toward a police state, destroying liberty, rather than any sort of vision of a more positive future.

As right-wing commentator Jonah Goldberg suggested, this could easily have come from some astroturf group serving as a front-pieces for fossil-foolish interests:

Until the pitch for Audi intrudes, you’d think it was a fun parody from a right-wing free-market outfit about the pending dystopian environmental police state

While Audi intended this advertisement to boost the Audi TDI Clean Diesel which was, mistakenly in my opinion, named “green car of the year”, this advertisement in the most prominent advertising venue of the year serves to promote a very destructive perspective on what might happen as the United States moves toward more environmentally-friendly policies and regulations.

EnviroNAZI and Ecofascist are “used as a political epithet by political conservatives to discredit deep ecology, mainstream environmentalism, and other left and non-left ecological positions”.

The Audi advertisement feeds directly into this “political epithet”, feeding a “tea party“-type framing of threats to civil liberty, serving to undermine public support for serious action to address America’s oil dependency, energy profligacy, and the challenges/opportunities that Global Warming present us (the U.S.).

It is simply astounding that a German company would play against such a framing, making oblique references to a Nazi police unit and providing what many will see as a broadside against environmentalism as somehow fascist in nature.

Such horrible framing in an advertisement for a green product makes “Green Police” the most environmentally unfriendly Super Bowl advertisement of 2010.

GE Scarecrow Smart Grid Ad from the 2009 Super Bowl. Note, this was the first (only to date) GE ad placed during the Super Bowl.

UPDATE / NOTE: JeremyBloom provides some examples from around the web to this ad:

…if you, too, are fed up with curly coiffed 18-year-old boys attempting to tell you to throw trash into the right-colored can and boasting of their ability to get their Prius to coast on the freeway, then the Audi spot might just be for you.

Audi’s Green Police: love it or hate it, that’s what it’s going to be like. Welcome to government interfering in every part of your life

Green Police Audi Commercial. I don’t think we’re too far away from this being the status quo. #libertarian

The green police AKA the LAPD in 2012. #tomanydamnhippiesinCali

And, reactions to this ad are mixed. David Roberts doesn’t agree with my interpretation.

the more the teabaggy interpretation just doesn’t quite fit. The thrill at the end, when they guy gets to accelerate away from the crowd, turns on satisfying the green police—not rejecting or circumventing them, but satisfying their strict standards. The authority of the green police is taken for granted, never questioned. If you’re looking to appeal to mooks who think the green police are full of it and have no authority, moral or otherwise, why would you make a commercial like that? Why offer escape from a moral dilemma your audience doesn’t acknowledge exists?

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.

Nor does Sebastio Blanco at AutoBlogGreen who comments that “we’ve seen the Super Bowl ad (there’s a teaser companion spot here) and can tell you that it’s not offensive in any way”. That post also has Audi’s response to criticism over the ad.

Jeffrey Kuhlman, the chief communications officer for Audi of America, told AutoblogGreen that he personally talked to two Jewish leaders – Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti Defamation League, and Fred Zeidman, Chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum – about the green police ads and that they did not see a problem with the spot

the issue of green police vs. Ordnungspolizei. Ordnungspolizei is directly translated to mean Order Police. It’s more than just the difference between capital letters and small letters, it’s official versus nicknames. And in our research not one person drew any other distinction other than “environmental”.

We researched the term. We tested the ad concept with focus groups. We sought input and reaction from key organizations, including the Jewish community, and we sent out a press release that went to thousands of media, and not one reaction. I then worked again with key Jewish leaders after the blogger raised the issue, just to make sure that we hadn’t missed something, and again, we were reassured that the term is not one that has historical significance, and that reactions to the term are completely in line with our intent … environmental enforcement.

To be clear, recognizing the implicit Hitler era reference is not isolated to this blogger.  See Danny Brown’s Audi and the Super Bowl Social Media Shit Storm

The problem is, there’s already been a Green Police enforcement organization, but not one that you’d want to be associated with. This Green Police was part of the Nazi persecution and execution of millions of Jews in the Holocaust of the Second World War.

The implications of Audi’s choice of name for their campaign could be huge, especially since Audi is a German company.

And, there was Aimee Picchi with Audi’s Super Bowl Ad Blunder: ‘Green Police’ Have Nazi History

The problem? The Green Police was a name used in Nazi Germany to refer to the German Order Police, or Orpo, who were given the moniker because of their green uniforms. The Orpo weren’t merely traffic cops, however. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, one battalion was central in sending Jews, Poles and Gypsies to concentration camps.

While the mock PSAs are humorous, with a shtick that leans more toward Reno 911! than Schindler’s List, it’s certainly never fortuitous for a German company to bring up reminders of the Third Reich. Still, it’s likely that most U.S. viewers won’t connect the “Green Police” in their history books with the ones in Audi’s Super Bowl ad promoting its A3 TDI clean-diesel vehicle.

Joe Romm’s take with Worst (green) Superbowl ad ever — or best.

I’m a big fan of humor but …

… I’m not sure the German car company understands that the idea of “Green Police” they are spoofing is, in fact, precisely what many conservatives in this country actually think is the primary reason people who care about the environment — the apparent target audience of this ad — are trying to get the nation to take action on global warming

Laughing … Yes, one can and should laugh …

And, to be clear, I see paths for having fun with the idea of over zealous driving of environmental messages. There is the Will Ferrell / et al “Green Team” skit which does not, imo, drive home the ‘enviro-fascist’ type message and is quite clearly comedic. It has also spawned many spoofs (good and bad).

There are even elements within the “Green Police” ad to amuse (that, I believe, police aardvark is an example), but the overall 30 second experience for the ‘average’ Super Bowl viewer reinforces a distorted view of what can and should happen as America moves forward toward a prosperous, climate friendly, clean-energy future.

Note, this is perhaps the best advertisement that appeared during the Super Bowl … even if some want to criticize it as anti-green for promoting international travel.

Pre Super Bowl promotional video re Green Police

GE Scarecrow Smart Grid Ad from the 2009 Super Bowl. Note, this was the first (only to date) GE ad placed during the Super Bowl.

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Tags: advertising

47 responses so far ↓

  • 1 American Male // Feb 15, 2010 at 10:49 am

    All I posted were links to three front-page stories from major newspapers I read today which I thought to be interesting and relevant. I didn’t even add a single word of commentary. Phil Jones is the one who stated there has been no global warming since 1995, not me.

    Actually, what is tiring is having to spend time to correct misrepresentations, even ones that are rocketing through the denialosphere. As to the Daily Mail piece, what is the basis for their headline/article? This BBC interview:

    BBC: Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming.

    Jones: Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

    So, yes, I guess, Jones siad “no statistical warming since 1995” … that is at the 95% confidence level. Do you really think that that comment supports your comment that “Jones is the one who stated there has been no global warming since 1995”.

    But, perhaps you should consider that the UK MetOffice has released analysis that the Hadley CRU data tends toward the low end of warming trend

    New analysis released today has shown the global temperature rise calculated by the Met Office’s HadCRUT record is at the lower end of likely warming.

    because HadCRUT is sampling regions that have exhibited less change, on average, than the entire globe

    And how is a link a “copyright violation”?

    You did not provide “a link” but extensive quotations, even to extent of entire article.

    I’m particularly confused, given that you substituted links of your own.

    I wish people could see what I wrote, so that I could defend myself. You could have minimally edited whatever you felt was legally necessary. Instead, you completely removed my links, inserted links of your own choosing, implied that I am dishonest and made it look as if I said things which I did not say.

    What you did was cut and paste material that was deceptive, at best, which requires responding to with use of my time as per the above.

    That you are simply providing material that someone else published doesn’t clear you of being implicated in the distribution / dissemination of truthiness-laden material.

    I’ve only posted four or five times in total on your site. If you wish to ban me, so be it.

  • 2 The green movment bitches about its own stereotypes « The Tiny Ouroboros // Feb 15, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    […] Of course, I’m late for the party, as usual. Since I don’t watch TV and I hate sports, I totally missed Audi’s Superbowl commercial. Personally, I thought it was amusing, even if I wanted to smack that condescending little smile off of Mr. Audi Drive;s face. And I will, later on in this post. But, of course, there are always those that throw a fit over the smallest thing. […]

  • 3 American Male // Feb 15, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    “You did not provide “a link” but extensive quotations, even to extent of entire article.”

    Not true. I posted the first couple of paragraphs verbatim for reference followed by the URL for the full article. I see no difference between that and the extensive quoting in your original blog post (quoting several paragraphs from Jeremy Bloom, David Roberts, Sebastio Blanco, Danny Brown, Aimee Picchi, Joe Romm, etc.).

    “What you did was cut and paste material that was deceptive, at best, which requires responding to with use of my time as per the above.

    “That you are simply providing material that someone else published doesn’t clear you of being implicated in the distribution / dissemination of truthiness-laden material.”

    I didn’t write the news articles, I don’t own the newspapers. I have no idea what you mean by my not being “cleared” in the “dissemination” of a newspaper article, as if that were a crime.

    You complained (and complain) that you are simply posting others words and material. Point is that you are disseminating misleading information, cutting & pasting from places. To allow this material to be posted, straight out, simply demands too much time in terms of showing how there are falsehoods, distortions, etc in the material.

    And what the heck does “truthiness-laden material” even mean?

    truthiness is a “truth” that a person claims to know intuitively “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.

    It seems clear at this point that only whatever fits conveniently into your belief system passes your personal content filter, and you’ll find a reason to censor / smear / dismiss everything else.

    We’re talking about ‘what stands up to reasonable evidentiary standards’. See, for example, Daily Mail Distortions which was, in part, sparked by your posting elements of that deceiving article which you then used in a misrepresenting statement in another comment.

  • 4 Fart // Feb 21, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Why was my Simpson’s quote deleted? I will quote it again… I guess Homer brings up an inconvenient truth to you…
    Homer: See, Lisa, looks like tomorrow I’ll be shoveling ten feet of global warming.
    Lisa: Global warming can cause weather at both extremes, hot and cold.
    Homer: I see, so you’re saying warming makes it colder. Well aren’t you the queen of crazy land. Everything the’s opposite of everything.


    Don’t know, perhaps tired of responding to cartoon characters being used as some form of scientific expertise.

    Sad that you seem proud to associate yourself with Homer …

  • 5 Fart // Feb 22, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    I agree.
    Cartoon characters… UN climate panel… What’s the difference?

    Your user name here and your commentary are about the same level. Shallowly childish and ignorant.

    Yes, it is clear to see why you identify yourself with Homer Simpson.

  • 6 Audi’s "Green Police" Superbowl Ad « NoFrakkingConsensus // Aug 20, 2010 at 10:23 am

    […] Siegel, the author of the Get Energy Smart! NOW! blog, accuses Audi of airing the “most environmentally unfriendly Superbowl ad.” This gent lives in a […]

  • 7 Pay-To-Play Pothole Mitigation? // Sep 19, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    […] On another Audi advertisement, see The Most Environmentally Unfriendly Super Bowl Ad? Share and […]