Commentary

Demented

There are errors of commission, and errors of omission. There is carelessness versus malign negligence. There is a tin ear versus "hear no evil." And there is plowing through barricades as if there were no danger ahead.  

The history of Super Bowl ad fiascos is rich with malpractice, and Sunday gave us some more. I’ll brush aside the many examples of celebrities being paid vast sums in the service of no coherent selling idea, or even connection to the nominally advertised brand. Those are fixtures of this event, year in and year out. I also won’t much explore the inherent dramatic tension between the pharma ads for IBS diarrhea and opioid-induced constipation. They played to a draw, leaving toenail fungus to win the Repulsive Bowl. 

Because the only thing worth discussing is Audi, and the spot called “Commander.”

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It begins with (fake) historical broadcast audio and video of a NASA lunar mission, and images of the mementos of its commander.  Then we see this man in the present day, age about 70, in front of his television, silent and vacant of expression. His eyes have no life in them. His daughter-in-law removes his meal, untouched on its tray.

"Not hungry, huh?” she says, and heads to the kitchen where her husband -- the commander’s son -- has just entered.

“Is he eating?" the kid says.

"Nope."

The son enters the living room. There’s his dad, now staring into, well, space.

Now, I ask you, what is this scene depicting? Or more to the point, what does it seem like more than a family struggling with Alzheimer’s? Or anyway, some sort of elder dementia, or at the very least deep clinical depression. So it is what happens next that is unfathomable. The son approaches his silent father.

"OK, Commander, come with me."

They walk slowly outdoors and see what is sitting in the driveway: an Audi R8 sports car. Top speed: 205. Other feature: curing brain disease.

The kid offers the key to Dad and Dad silently accepts it, as the sounds of David Bowie’s "Starman" begin to fade up, intercut with more fake historical footage of the young commander heading into space. Dad, poor catatonic Dad, finally cracks a smile.

"Choosing the moon brings out the best in us," says the onscreen type. No, it doesn’t. It is easy to imagine someone at Venables Bell & Partners coming up with an idea about a car bringing an ex-astronaut out of his Earthbound torpor. What is impossible to believe is that nobody flagged that the realization of the ad was a grotesquery. There is no way for an Alzheimer’s family to watch this without gasping. Twitter, of course, lit up. Not sure what David Bowie did in his grave, but I’m going to guess it was at 205 mph.

This obscenity took me back 17 years to Super Bowl XXXIII and the Just for Feet spot, which featured a Humvee full of armed white people tracking a black Kenyan runner across the veldt, shooting him with a tranquilizer dart and forcing sneakers on him. It was an outrage so extreme, on the Friday before the game I begged the agency to pull it. "We think it’s humorous and fun," the agency rep replied. What he should have said was, "Really? Racists? Neo-colonialist? Maybe we should have another look."

They instead drove through the barricade. Now I suppose it’s possible that nobody at any stage of this production noticed that their "bored" ex-astronaut presented as an extremely debilitated man. It’s possible, because of myopia by immersion. But I don’t believe that is what happened. I believe that at almost every stage some voice of caution was raised, and squelched. Which is not carelessness, not obtuseness, not myopia. It is negligence.

And if so, it should be punished. Because this was not just insensitive, not just a trivialization of tragedy, but a perverse insult to millions. To sell a sports car. Simply disgusting. Astonishing and disgusting.

 

40 comments about "Demented".
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  1. Daniel Soschin from Speaker & Blogger, February 8, 2016 at 8:36 a.m.

    Is it just me, or were the the ads (on the whole, but for an outlier or two), terribly unimaginative, completely disconnected, and unoriginal? And that's me being nice. Sum: this years' ads were downright awful (and not full of glued-to-the-TV AWE)... They were more disappointing than the game itself.

  2. David Mountain from Marketing and Advertising Direction, February 8, 2016 at 9:27 a.m.

    For the life of me, I don't know why companies do this media buy. It's $5mm+ for 30 seconds to put yourself on trial. If you sell the product, it's boring. If you go for humor, you don't sell the product. You're always going to be upstaged by someone going for the lowest common denomintor, or the game itself, or the halftime show.

    I get that 100+mm viewers is impossible to find in a single shot media buy anywhere else. I also get that clients who have been here before feel they are doing branding damage to not being here again. But at some point, the Emperor is not wearing any clothes. And the price for his new suit just keeps going up.

  3. Steve Schildwachter from BrightStar Care, February 8, 2016 at 9:50 a.m.

    Bob, as you know, we agree all the time on how advertising, especially Super Bowl advertising it seems, fails to connect the brand and the consumer.  And I really, REALLY agree with you on this one.  This past year I took a job in Marketing at a company that cares for seniors.  Having had relatives that suffered from dementia didn't even prepare me for a visit to our memory care facility.  Personally, I was really affected by my interactions with people under our care.  Professionally, I realized how difficult it is to portray these interactions with sensitivity in our advertising.  As the U.S. population ages, we in marekting are really going to have to develop deep sensitivity.  Audi should be a care study in what not to do.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, February 8, 2016 at 9:51 a.m.

    David, the reason advertisers buy time on the Super Bowl and agencies go all out in their "creative"for this event is that it's not a "media Buy". In fact, by the numbers, it's probably the worst media buy one can make. The whole thing is, in reality, nothing more than a huge promotional platform and, in this context, the ads get much more than the usual degree of attention, not only from the audience---where the percentage of viewers who both recall the ad and know what brand it's for is 60% above the all-TV norm---but also from Wall Street analysts, company shockholders, distribution channels, industry watchers, etc. etc.---all of whom are important to the Super Bowl type of advertiser.

  5. William Mount from The Crafton Group, February 8, 2016 at 9:59 a.m.

    Thank you, Bob, for saying what a lot of us were thinking. There are so many ways that the agency, the director and the actors could have, with a few different choices, made this a solid and effective commercial. Instead, it seems they went out of their way to go the wrong way at every turn. Years ago I learned to quit asking "Who thought this up?" and ask, instead, "Who signed off on this?"

    Considering how jumpy and fearful of making a misstep so may of the clients I've known have been (I recall a certain client at a certain Big Oil Company who's often-mocked mantra was "Nope, we'll get letters") it's almost inconceivable that somebody didn't yell, "Are you clowns kidding?!" when they first saw the storyboard.

  6. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, February 8, 2016 at 10:23 a.m.

    I did not gasp when I watched this spot, so please don't imagine that I simply must have.  My dad died suffering Alzheimer’s and I was not offended at all. In his final months, we all tried to reach him. He seemed to know us but we were never sure. We would do anything to get him to smile and that is what the son in this ad does, out of love. My fondest memory is us taking him bowling three days before he passed. Afterwards, we took him to lunch and he ordered something he could not eat, saying he forgot he didn't like it. I rewatched the Audi spot just now and found your criticism too harsh, but I respect the opinion of anyone who has an actual experience with an Alzheimer’s parent to share. I thought it pushed an emotional button and ignored if it was a good use of advertising.

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 8, 2016 at 10:57 a.m.

    Data marketers, twenty something data marketers. They put things together based on data rather than thinking. (See MediaPost, Mr. Hochkiss post about thinking.) The sheep one is more descriptive.

  8. Patricia Friedlander from Word-Up! replied, February 8, 2016 at 11:46 a.m.

    My thoughts exactly, Paula Lynn. 

  9. Len Stein from Visibility Public Relations, February 8, 2016 at 11:47 a.m.

    beyond the boring... when will the FTC or another group crack down on auto ads that glorify illegal driving habits- speeding, skidding, u-turns, etc., etc. It's time we learn that cars are transportation tools not extensions of our base fantasies.

  10. William Mount from The Crafton Group replied, February 8, 2016 at 11:54 a.m.

    If cars weren't extensions of our base fanatasies, a lot more auto industry workers would be out of work than already are.

  11. Alex Goulder from Gaiam, February 8, 2016 at noon

    I could not agree with you more, Bob, except about your point that the Audi commercial was the only one worth discussing. How about the Sofi one? What the hell was that even about? I did read that at the last minute they deleted "you probably aren't" after "find out if you're great". They really should have deleted the entire ad. 

    Or the one for Arrow Industries--like a parody of an industrial film. Or the Walken closet--middling pun, pointless ad. etc. etc.... Please, Bob, share your snarky wisdom with us on all of them. 

  12. Matt Thornhill from Boomer Project, February 8, 2016 at 12:04 p.m.

    Bob's analysis is accurate, but all the spots were surprisingly weak and unimaginative this year. What's interesting is that many spots last year showcased a company's Purpose as much as selling a product. Didn't see that this year expect for perhaps the Jeep ads. Wonder why?

  13. Randall Tinfow from CLICK-VIDEO LLC replied, February 8, 2016 at 12:12 p.m.

    Similar reaction here.  

    Us kin need to smile at the disease rather than be oppressed by it.  

    Excuse me while I good feed lunch to my 96 year old mother-in-law.  She gets that dementia transcending glimmer not from sports cars but from studly 30 year olds.

  14. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network, February 8, 2016 at 12:13 p.m.

    Wow. A Garfield column I disagree with. A milestone of sorts.  Here's why; ... I'm 71 years old, and so far, dementia-free (knock wood.)  Though I never enjoyed the drama of a Moon landing in my youth, I did do some pretty exciting stuff involving motorcycle racing. Since I'm far too old to enjoy that incredible buzz (pardon the pun), there are moments of boredom similar to what is depicted in the Super Bowl ad. Not dementia or Altzheimer's, ... just boredom. Not always, but sometimes.

    And since one of my absolute favorite streetable cars is that very same Audi R8 (ever hear one at full-throttle?) I totally understand the ad and its premise. So, the thought that the ad somehow depicted aging in a negative way never entered my mind. I got it. And maybe if those a few decades younger would stop and consider that the human brain does not automatically slip into neutral - or worse - at 70, they would get it , too.

  15. Joan Treistman from The Treistman Group, February 8, 2016 at 12:42 p.m.

    What doesn’t work in the Audi ad is that there are two contradictory parts to the story.  The latter half effectively shows how joy can be brought about driving an Audi. (But I did wonder about giving an Alzheimer’s patient keys to a car).


    The first half is confusing and creates an emotional barrier to liking the ad and being influenced by it.  My husband has Alzheimer’s and I immediately thought of a man with Alzheimer’s as I watched the first scenes of the commercial, particularly when the son asked “is he eating” as he brought in groceries.  So I thought that we’re clearly dealing with a senior who has some emotional or neurological problems. That’s just a sad story.  Now Audi wants me (or their target…if I’m not that person) to be uplifted and motivated to consider Audi. But my reaction is that I don’t want to see that commercial again and I will avoid anything Audi because it will bring up all those uncomfortable feelings of loss and sadness.

  16. Roxanne Darling from Bare Feet Studios LLC, February 8, 2016 at 1:03 p.m.

    I never thought I would be one of those people who complained about the ignorance of the younger ones - but this appears to me to be the issue. So many people 30 and under running so many of these ad and internet platforms. As much as they feel they know the world, their parents are still young and hip. And apparently they have no interaction with their grandparents. Anyone 60 and over has likely had direct experience with someone who has ALZ (as we call it in my family) and yes, it gives one a whole new perspective on aging.

    There is so much diversity that is missing in these ad/internet arenas and it's contributing to these embarrassing wastes of money and brand equity. Pick your target group that is not young and white and mostly male, and add them in the mix to help you make a stronger more effective product.

  17. Brent Green from Brent Green & Associates, Inc., February 8, 2016 at 1:20 p.m.

    Beauty, Bob, is in the eye of the beholder. But who is going to buy this car? I mean, seriously? With a price tag of around $165,000 before taxes and licensing, I suspect two target prospective buyers. 1) Justin Bieber or 2) middle-aged men who have done quite well financially. 

    From the perspective of the latter targeted prospect, this ad accomplishes several things. First, it employs nostalgia about the Space Age that powerfully resonates with men who came of age during the NASA Apollo Program. The actor portraying the depressed and disconnected father looks eerily like a real former astronaut.  The production values of this trip back in time are quite effectively executed. My memory floodgates opened. David Bowie’s “Starman,” first released in 1972, further reinforced a multisensory nostalgic tableau.


     


    Second, many middle age men can relate to seeing a father descend into depression. For one, I did not believe the Commander to be a victim of Alzheimer's disease because he was able to become more alert when addressed, purposefully follow his son, and then drive the car. I saw him as being lonely, lacking purpose, and feeling marginalized -- a much more likely interpretation of his behavior. Acute depression can often be misconstrued as a more serious brain disorder.

    I also couldn't help seeing his son as heroic in the sense of empathetically rescuing his father from a purposeless day, intent upon rekindling his father's passion for life. It was a generous and loving act in the abstract. I've been in the same situation with my father, who did not suffer from cognitive decline but from the accumulation of losses and marginalization that too often come with old age. I took the “old man” camping and fishing instead. Mission accomplished.

    I resonated with some of the implicit messages in this ad, although I'll never be able to justify purchasing an Audi R8. But, damn, what a machine -- right out of the movie "I, Robot," starring Will Smith! This ad reinforced my perceptions of Audi as the leading futuristic car brand, far more worthy of my fantasy automobile dollars than Porsche, Jaguar, or Acura.

  18. Patty Ardis from Ardis Media, LLC replied, February 8, 2016 at 1:33 p.m.

    I agree with Daniel Soschin, all the ads save for one or two were really disappointing on all levels, A waste of money and time.

    I think that Bob has several good points but it is clear that the spot left some things open for interpretation but given that the obvious is probably what is going on the only logical conclusion is that the spot was done in poor taste. Again, disappointing.

  19. Kevin Kane from DMW Direct, February 8, 2016 at 2:01 p.m.

    Bob,
    I couldn't agree more with your assessment of this Audi spot. I sat in stunned silence watching it unfold. Yes, Audi makes great cars. Yes, those cars touch the inner driving enthusiast in us. Yes, they appeal to our aspirational nature for an incredibly well-engineered sports car that few can truly afford. This execution however was beyond tone-deaf. It was pathetic and insulting.

  20. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, February 8, 2016 at 2:18 p.m.

    As an "Alzheimer's Family" I wasn't the least bit offended by this ad. First, it looked more like the depression of old age - not Alzheimer's specifically. Second, it reflected the hope of those us with aged family members - that they will achieve a freedom and joy again. I wish for my loved ones with alzheimer's that they COULD return to their dreams of independence.

    Besides, Audi finally said something worthwhile and valuable - they have a very hot rocket car that might be expensive but which we can fantasize about. Much more valuable than their Vampire ad a few years ago which wasted a full 60 seconds of expensive time to tell us a $90K car has nice headlights.

  21. Diane Cook-Tench from Ms., February 8, 2016 at 2:30 p.m.

    Bob - First, I understand that it's hard to report the "news" on something millions have already seen. Controversy is needed to create interest and views. While I understand that you have to serve MediaPost and yourself, you needed to pick a true controversy. This ad's just not one. It’s a real stretch to connect it to Alzheimer’s patients
    Secondly, I've worked as a Creative Director and educator in advertising for decades. While I feel blessed to include many industry icons as friends, there's a thing happening in my social media streams. I call it "Grumpy Old Men Syndrome".
    It's generally most prevalent on Facebook, a platform used by retired ad guys who don't always understand today’s connected lifestyle. They love to complain about the ads seen during a big TV event. "Ads just aren’t as creative as they used to be." i.e. when they were active.
    Baloney, there’s always been a range of creative executions from bad to outstanding. There are more good ideas and cool creative media campaigns today than ever before. Its just not single ads. Instead, it’s more like magazine campaigns. A steady stream of content that is cool and interesting. People choose to follow it or not just as magazine subscribers do.
    The work is amazingly good today - much more interesting than in past decades. It has to be when people get to choose what they see now
    To be totally transparent, I'm the founder of the VCU Brandcenter. While I don't personally know Johnny Roelofs, a 2013 grad. He worked on this spot and the Audi’s “Why The Moon Matters” campaign with Venables Bell & Partners.
    Johnny and 19 other Brandcenter grads created 13 Super Bowl spots seen yesterday.
    The Center’s Board was launched in 1995 and its doors opened in 1996. I had help from Dan Wieden, Jay Chiat, Mike Hughes, and other industry icons. All of us were focused on educating the next generation of leaders. On the school's 20th anniversary year, I think that we've accomplished our original mission.
    Education there has changed, just as communications have changed. Today, Bob Greenberg of RGA, Jon Kamen of Radical Media, and other leaders are helping create the next generation of creative problem solvers.
    Students are creating social movements; toys that teach kids to code; they’re developing inventions that help people with epilepsy. An alum, Michael Karnjanaprakorn, invented Skillshare. It's no longer just teaching about developing a Super Bowl ad. It’s about creative problem solving.
    My guess is that Jay Chiat, Mike Hughes, Phil Dusenberry, Caroline Jones, and the other original Board Members we’ve lost would be proud of this ad and of the way communications is evolving. It’s about more than a single piece, it’s about everything that Venables Bell & Partners and other savvy communications firms are doing to rocket brands from here to the moon. Cheers to them and the sharp client-side brand marketers like the pros at Audi!

  22. Jeff Sawyer from GH, February 8, 2016 at 3:53 p.m.

    Maybe it's a self-driving Audi. "Send grandpa out for a spin – I need some 'me' time." 

    Probably not. 

  23. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, February 8, 2016 at 4:04 p.m.

    To Diane Cook-Tench:  The first direct quote from you is utterly ignorant of a critic's role and also insulting, accusing me of ginning up a controversey to sell zeros and ones.  When you write "I understand," you are in error. 

    The second is merely insulting. I;m not telling kids to get off my lawn. I'm calling out an advertiser for being insensitive and exploitative. And I'm not alone.  By the way, I've been a grumpy old man for 30 years. 

    Controversy is needed to create interest and views. While I understand that you have to serve MediaPost and yourself, you needed to pick a true controversy. This ad's just not one. It’s a real stretch to connect it to Alzheimer’s patients

    While I feel blessed to include many industry icons as friends, there's a thing happening in my social media streams. I call it "Grumpy Old Men Syndrome".
    It's generally most prevalent on Facebook, a platform used by retired ad guys who don't always understand today’s connected lifestyle. They love to complain about the ads seen during a big TV event. "Ads just aren’t as creative as they used to be." i.e. when they were active.
    Baloney, there’s always been a range of creative executions from bad to outstanding. There are more good ideas and cool creative media campaigns today than ever before. Its just not single ads. Instead, it’s more like magazine campaigns. A steady stream of content that is cool and interesting. People choose to follow it or not just as magazine subscribers do. 

  24. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, February 8, 2016 at 5:11 p.m.

    Ah, once again I must quote the Donovan song lyric since it applies to every critic: "It's just one man's opinion of moonlight..."

    And, as usual, Ed Papazian is absolutely correct: in no way is the Super Bowl a "media buy." You buy it for what we used to call its "associative values" which, to demonatrate a firm grasp of the obvious, are many.

  25. Barry Robertson from Boomer-Plus Consulting Group, February 8, 2016 at 6:07 p.m.

    Checking the responses so far to Bob's column, I see two main takeaways.

    First, almost everyone seems to agree the spot opens with a senior who is either seriously depressed or suffering from Alzheimers. At best, those of us who have been through a similar situation with a parent are dragged back in time to those sad days. 

    Some remember our loved one's occasional bright moments; most are emotionally downcast (BTW, me too) before the "solution" arrives.

    Second, the car is gorgeous, its performance is exhilerating -- and it's the son's. Dad has either never seen it before or forgotten that he had. Hopefully the former. Pretty soon the ride will be over and it's back to the barcalounger for the Commander.

    Bottom-line: the car is supposed to drag us out of our poignant reverie. But why put us back in that place to begin with?

    There are many more uplifting ways to introduce a new super-car. 

    Compare the mood with Harvey Keitel's demeanor in the MINI Defy Labels spot. Harvey, aged 76, far better depicts how the Boomer-Plus generation wants to see themselves -- engaged, cool and interesting.

    It's not as "creative" as the Audi spot, but it doesn't depress half of us either.

     












  26. Mark Paul from Mark Paul, February 8, 2016 at 6:24 p.m.

    First of all, I thought the best ad yesterday was Payton telling 2 post-game interviewers that he intended to drink a lot of Budweiser that night with his teammates. One of the best matches between celebrity and product ever, certainly a lot better than car insurance. Paid? Sure! But way better than a dirty, bloody NFL player who's just had his childhood dream come true claim that right now, he's looking forward to visiting Disney World. As if he couldn't afford to pay his own way.

    Cook-Tench is proud of the number of VCU grads who created Super Bowl spots but she may have, certainly unintentionally, touched on why the ads were so uninspiring at best: ad school grads create ads that feel like school assignments: turn in an execution using this technique, then do another showing your grasp of another technique, etc. What we rarely see is a deep understanding of what connects buyers with the product category and that shallowness was evident throughout the game. 

    I happened to be cleaning out some files over the weekend and came across the Cannes Daily that reported on Bud/DDB Needham's "Whassup!" winning the Gold Lion. It wasn't created by an ad school grad, wasn't conceived by an agency creative, or intended to be an ad at all. It was a demo by a hip-hop video director looking to break into features. A copywriter (who'd never been to ad school) screened it in an editing suite lounge and recognized the connection between close pals in their 20s and beer. 

    As far the Audi ad is concerned, they desperately need to change the conversation away from their (cough, cough) "clean" diesel engines. I guess a street-legal race car does that, but I'm not sure what that means to someone who can afford a bit more than an Accord.

    And please stop mis-using the word "cool," dammit. Miles Davis was cool, James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause" was cool, so was Paul Newman in "Cool Hand Luke." Bill Bernbach, Leo Burnett, and David Ogilvy were brilliant ad men, but they were never cool.


  27. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, February 8, 2016 at 8:42 p.m.

    I'm with you, Bob. The use of the Bowie song is goosebump inducing, and the first time I saw it I thought the spot was exhilarating. Then I thought about the first and last halves that really didn't add up. And the music, while great, reminds me of death. And it seemed to me that this whole thing could be a metaphor for death! 

  28. David Esrati from The Next Wave, February 8, 2016 at 10:11 p.m.

    Bob-


    I agree with you on the Just for Feet ad.


    However, as a recovering adrenelin junkie- I saw this ad totally different.


    I sit around dreaming of jumping out of airplanes, rappelling out of helicopters, and shooting things that you don't want to be down range of.


    I've got a friend who used to fly U-2's. Seriously- you don't know what it's like after you've passed the stratosphere- or gone Mach 5.
    That guy did. His son understood it.


    I understood it. And the car- will take anyone out of a coma....
    This may have offended you- and others - who just don't get a 205 mph car-
    but to those of us who do... it works.


    I understand, you think raising hell about comcast is your crowning achievement in life.
    I just got back from a 6,800 motorcycle ride in 20 days... and- while I wouldn't do that again- it did break me out of a funk.
    Go jump out of a plane for a living. After that- sitting around the house is pretty damn depressing.

  29. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, February 9, 2016 at 2:48 a.m.

    It simply amazes me that most of these response are about what "I"  -- that is, the commenter -- took from the ad.  And therein one of the greatest problems with advertising. Who gives a shit what you think? If you know that many, many people will see it another way, an upsetting way, an explotative way, a trivializing way, whether you personally like it or see it differently is utterly inconsequential.  100 million people watch the Super Bowl.  If only 1% see the character as deeply depressed or suffering from Alzheimers, and have lived through that agony, that's 1 million people who had a reason to be very upset Sunday.  And I promise you, if based on nothing but twitter, it's far more than 1%.  

    You people are not artists, or journalists.  You are advertisers and their agents, and you have responsibility to both the larger audience and your brand.  Yes, there's always someone looking to be offended. I'm not speaking of that. It's sometimes ok, in communicating with the many, to offend the few.  But is is NEVER OK to offend, insult, sadden or frighten the many in order to impress a few.

    This is lost on so many ad people, and has been as long as I've been scrutinizing advertising. Astonishing. And depressing. And disgusting. Not to mention rude, arrogant, juvenile and irresponsible.  

  30. Ken Kurtz from creative license, February 9, 2016 at 7:32 a.m.

    Get a grip, Bob. I think the degree to which you're willing to to acribe your unrealistic outrage on the public is absured.

    My mom has suffered with Alzheimer's for five years now. The notion that this man was dealing with dementia never crossed my mind, and I'm in the thick of that. The producers of that spot did a nice job inferring that the man was merely longing for his "glory days" in space, much as many of the men on the Panthers, and Broncos will terribly miss their glory days on the field of play a couple of decades down the road. A very human condition that was expressed well enough in my opinion.

    And THAT car. A good friend has been with Audi for three decades, and showed up at my door with that car recently. Tossed me the keys, and off we went. Positively exhilarating, unlike any other driving experience in my life... took me back to the first time I drove my 1969 Chevelle SS onto Daytona Beach summer of 1978 at 19 years of age.

  31. Ken Kurtz from creative license replied, February 9, 2016 at 7:39 a.m.

    A metaphor for death, Barbara. Really?

    Well. There are three things guaranteed in life. Death, taxes, and silly criticism. If this ad even suggests to people that death unequivocally does await them, and they might want to really experience some exhilaration here on earth prior to that, than it works well enough.

  32. Christina Ricucci from Millenia 3 Communications replied, February 9, 2016 at 9:05 a.m.

    I'm with you, Kenny. I loved the spot, it gave me goosebumps! 

    I'm the same age (nearing 70) as this man appeared to be. I too have dealt with dementia in family members, but not even once did the thought of Alzheimer's or dementia cross my mind. I briefly thought maybe he was sad, he was lonely, depression possibly, but that was it. Frankly, and I don't mean to disparage others' impressions, but my thought upon reading this article and other comments was "THAT'S what you got from this spot?" Perhaps for some people it's speaking to fears they haven't consciously expressed yet. 

    What I got from the spot was what you call "a very human condition;" I don't think it's a bit uncommon, as we have lived the greater part of our lives, to miss the days which brought us the greatest thrills. I saw the little smile on the man's face as he accelerated and thought of my first car, a 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400 in Autumn Bronze, all the way to the end of the spot. And at the end, I immediately Googled "Audi R8." I can't possibly afford it (though I'd love to see the expressions on people's faces at a little old lady driving one), but IMO the spot did exactly what was envisioned by the writers. 


  33. Brent Green from Brent Green & Associates, Inc. replied, February 9, 2016 at 12:49 p.m.

    Advertising is science; advertising is art. Advertising reflects and shapes culture, which is inordinately the collision of disparate forces.

    From the science perspective, this ad demonstrates the potential of generational marketing: in this case, Baby Boomer male nostalgia about the Apollo Missions as glorified in Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff." I suspect that the primary target audience for this message -- those who have both the means and motivations to buy this car or other, more affordable Audi models -- is Baby Boomer men, the same segment likely to be experiencing the decline of fathers who are becoming the "old-old."  The secondary target is probably Generation X men, as portrayed by the son in the Commander ad.

    According to recent Pew research, Boomers have the highest degree of generational identification among all living generations: 79 percent. This means that a large majority of television viewers in the target audience can be collectively reached by connecting a brand to uplifting nostalgic imagery. David Bowie's recent death does not now render his songs as death metaphors. That's as ridiculous as associating death with a Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley sound bed in an ad. Actually, Bowie’s recent death could make the sound bed less background and more foreground, with a positive boost to message awareness and reception.

    The majority of Super Bowl ads irritate me, Bob, from the puerile and inane creative conceptions conceived mostly for adolescent mentalities, to more adult ads for diarrhea and erectile dysfunction medications. My personal reactions have little to do with my professional assessments of how well and creatively an ad potentially taps into the collective psyche of an intended target, especially from a generational marketing perspective, the focus of my writing and speaking for the last twelve years.


    None of us commenters -- including you -- will know the true measured results of this ad, so all comments -- including yours -- are merely artistic opinions. We will not know data for pre and post brand awareness, brand image associations, top-of-mind awareness, propensity to buy, and actual vehicle sales, pre and post this ad campaign. We will not have any hard data for the true balance of favorable versus unfavorable consumer reactions expressed in social media.


    I have always thought of Barbara Lippert and you as my favorite advertising opinion leaders -- the best in the business -- but I cannot agree with your harshness and single dimension critiques of this Audi ad. And that's my opinion.

  34. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, February 9, 2016 at 1:36 p.m.

    Didn't get the creepy Alzheimer's vibe, but I've never known anyone well who's had it. I found the ad manipulative and sentimental, over-rated. But I don't think I would've said anything about it being offensive if i was in the focus group. I might agree with others once they brought it up, though.

    Overall, found Super Duper Sunday Shilling less bad than many years, honestly, though few examples of stellar work.

  35. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network replied, February 9, 2016 at 5:15 p.m.

    Careful with the "you people aren't artists or journalists" stuff, ... I'm both, and I saw absolutely nothing offensive about the ad, and I can easily see offense where practically none exists. (It's a gift.)

    Besides that, I'm well into the age group most directly impacted by aging problems, and a number of my friends and relatives suffered from Altzheimers. Yet still, to me that ad, and its message, was very benign and innocent: People who once did very exciting things get bored when they can no longer do them. And the Audi R8 is exciting enough for those same people to revisit at least some of that excitement. Period. 

    Seeing anything beyond that is like counting heads in ads to see if there are enough Inuits, Polynesians and Lower East side two-blocks from someplace second-generation Welshmen to accurately match current national demographics.

    On the other hand, since Audis were involved in XX% of fatal accidents worldwide in the past 24 months, I feel personally astonished, depressed AND insulted that the memories of those poor dead folks were not addressed in the ad.

  36. David Esrati from The Next Wave, February 10, 2016 at 11:17 a.m.

    "It simply amazes me that most of these response are about what "I"  -- that is, the commenter -- took from the ad."


    Because Bob, the rest of us don't speak with the Imperial "We"- or make judgements based soley on our perceptions-


    And- a lot of people don't see this as alzeheimers.
    You did.


    Maybe it was the aniversary of his launch?


    There is only so much a story teller can tell in such a short time.


    Go rail against the stupid ads please...

  37. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, February 10, 2016 at 5:21 p.m.

    David Ezrati:
    Do a Twitter search of "Audi" and "Alzheimers."  Then recalculate. Also, there is only one "e" in "judgment."

  38. Ken Kurtz from creative license, February 10, 2016 at 9:12 p.m.

    Twitter search? What the hell for? Why would any intelligent, thinking person ever endeavor to "search Twitter?"

    Spend too much time on Twitter, and one will start to make twit-like observations, and critiques. The perils of 140 character vapidness, in an ADHD society.

    I'm living Alzheimer's right now. Totally in the thick of it. The production of that spot ASSURED that I would NOT assume that "Captain" was an Alzheimer's sufferer. To most, it was very clear who "Captain" was, and what he was suffering from (it was clearly not dementia).

    As such, the exhilaration of the R8 closely approximated the exhilaration he was missing, and pining for... leftovers from previous decades when he was an astronaut.

    Clear as a bell. Kudos to the producers for making it so clear...

  39. Thomas Bench from P.J. Walker Communications, February 14, 2016 at 6:22 p.m.

    The ad itself demonstrates that the Commander doesn't have Alzheimers (you don't hand the keys to a high performance ride to someone with any form of dementia.) Perhaps he is just bored, lonely, recently lost his wife, is bummed realizing that the high point of his life was 50 years ago and can't/won't be repeated. 

    I've been in close association with pilots all my life, and speed is the one thing that always gets the juices flowing. Going with the most counterintuitive interpretation of this spot seems to be just looking for something to take umbrage.

  40. Ken Kurtz from creative license, February 16, 2016 at 1:19 p.m.

    Was at my friend's house this weekend (three decades with Audi), and asked him if there was any negative feedback about the Super Bowl spot. He didn't watch the Super Bowl, so he wasn't even aware of the spot I was alluding to. When he pulled it up on his tablet, and watched it, he said "Oh yeah. The Commander spot."

    Suffice to say that he was clear that not only had there NOT been any negative feedback, there wasn't a single mention of "Alzheimer's" at Audi's US HQ's.

    And after watching that spot again, I've changed my mind. That the producers were able to work in a David Bowie tribute less than one month after his passing was sheer genius on top of all the other great things about that car, and that brand, that were communicated in that spot.

    All this hullabaloo here makes me that much more cognizant of how much meaningless navel gazing goes on in certain circles...

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