Audi television commercial says we are all not the same

By Michael Vass | November 23, 2008

Ah the holiday season. It’s a time of credit card debt, long lines at shopping malls and department stores, and occasionally a truly inspired television commercial. I recall somewhere in the back of my mind a time around now that would be called the Thanksgiving and then Christmas Holidays and family gatherings, but that’s a bit fuzzy and a long time ago. And it’s not my point.

The television commercials promoting the purchases you need to make to ensure the happiness of your loved ones are interesting. Often television can provide dramatic insight to the real mood and thoughts of the nation. This is never more true than during a holiday, or the Super Bowl. And Audi really made a statement early into the season.

Now I have to admit that I did not notice the problem in this commercial the first time I saw it. It was a friend of mine who saw it on Friday and asked if I had noticed something glaring in the commercial. I finally found a copy of it and I wonder if you will see the problem.

You only need to pay attention to the details of the commercial to get the message. It’s subtle and visual, and only on for 2 seconds.

Need help? I did at first too. Look at the road that each guy gets. It’s not the design of the road, it’s the size of it. And that says a lot, especially when each home is considered too.

The Black couple have a piece of the road, a very small piece. They have a decent if not plainly decorated home. There is no extravagance, and their clothes are neither new nor impressive.

The next couple is White. They have a far bigger piece of road. The style the room is decorated in seems to imply an apartment while the art, furniture, lamps, and books imply white-collar professionals. That means the apartment is a condo. And this implies a higher income than the Black couple.

The last couple are also White (or at least the man is, and the woman could be argued to have some Latina traits though I don’t see it). They have a huge home, and an equally large section of road.

I realize that Audi included middle-class African Americans in their commercial. I know they are projecting an image of success for them as well. And obviously they want African American customers. But that’s just a secondary thought. They really are saying that they want White customers. And that they value White customers over Black ones.

Some might say I am overly critical of the television commercial. I think not, because when you have only 30 seconds to make a statement everything that is seen is part of your message. There are teams of people making more than I do each, pouring over every detail in this commercial and then another group of even better paid people that approve the idea and pitch it to Audi. And then Audi’s really well paid people go over it all before it gets a greenlight.

Audi doesn’t care if Billy Joe working at the gas station likes the commercial. They don’t care if Santiago working at the printing company watched the commercial. They want people with money and tons of it. And that is reflected in the commercial.

What the commercial really says is if you are Black and can put some money together you might be able to own an Audi. If you are a yuppie in the city you can own their car, and if you relax at the country club you are a member of on the weekend and live in the suburbs you need to own this car. Because it’s the White guy with the big house that gets the car in the end.

Now I will say again that I didn’t pay attention to this commercial the first time I saw it. But I have watched it since a few times. And I’m happy that Audi has joined the growing number of companies targeting African Americans for their products. It’s nice to see that at least commercials are willing to acknowledge the existence of, and buying power controlled by, African Americans. They are ahead of television programming that continues to emphasize a view of the world more akin to 1960 than 2000.

But that does not mean I enjoy the message they are sending out. It’s not as bad as the insulting commercials that McDonald’s puts out that are obvious in their targeting of African Americans via stereotypes in the media. But the message is not as positive as it could have been either. Simply having all the pieces of the road the same size (hell they could have used the same piece for all it mattered) would have been enough. A simple statement that all the customers that could afford an Audi are equal in their eyes, and welcome. But that isn’t what they believe according to their commercial.

Again, commercials are the window to the thoughts in the back of the collective minds of the nation. It’s the backhanded compliment (like when Colin Powell and President Obama are called clean and articulate), or the obliviousness of using terms based on racial segregation and Jim Crow that thankfully stopped being used 25 years ago (Lindsey Lohan ring a bell?).

I’m not saying that every commercial has to include African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Indians (who you really never see at all) and every other group in America. But I am saying that when the majority of commercials exclude all these groups, and when the small portion that do show us imply imperfections and secondary status, I speak on it. It means to me that America still has a long way to go. That it’s not just people in Pennsylvania or West Virginia that have problems. That the world continues to feed upon the negative images our media provides, diminishing the nation by diminishing parts of our nation.

Do I like the Audi? Yes I do. Would I buy one after seeing this commercial? I might. But what I would rather see are commercials for whatever product that includes people just like me, in exactly the same manner as they target anyone else. Because I have the same Rights, money, and dammit I have earned it.

Topics: Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

12 Responses to “Audi television commercial says we are all not the same”

  1. Anonymous

    With over-reactions thoughts like these, racism will never cease to exist.

  2. M. Vass

    Oh where might I start.First, racism and prejudice have existed for millenia. You can trace it back to the Egyptians and the Mongols, and Greeks. It’s basically a worldwide phenomenon that’s existed since human society as best as I can tell. So seeing it cease will never depend on a television commercial.Second, as I mentioned in the post this is important because it is a television commercial. This wasn’t a scene in a movie, or an episode on TV. This was made, like all television commercials, with a specific and exact intention. In 30 seconds it wants to reach a target group and give them a message. And everything you see or hear in that commercial is designed to lead you to that one conclusion.So in noting the purposive intention of the commercial with regard to race relations, I’m not overreacting but stating the obvious. And as is often true, the most obvious things in life are often overlooked by most.I will bet, like many of the anonymous comments I receive that claim my observations about race are overly done, that you are White. It is the priveledge in this society that if you are White you can ignore any degree or type of racial imbalance. Because it never effects you. And if something is brought up that interferes with your view of the world, you denounce it for being extreme and unrealistic. But how can my breakdown of an explicit and purposive commercial promote racism – which is the implication you make.Why not tell me how all the things I noted about the commercial were wrong. Or that I missed the point of the commecial. Or explain how the imagery and wording were meant to convey a different meaning.Because you know, as I do, that I was dead on the mark. But you felt uncomfortable with that understanding. It messes with your world and life view of things. And that is a positive.For racism, prejudice, and socio-economic imbalances to truely end we must realize the subtle and blatant forms of these things in our society. We need to talk about what others see and how it affects them. Because what is a minor little triviality to one person, can be a burning cross for another.But if you, or anyone, truely think I was way over the top, please do share why. I’m always willing to listen.

  3. Anonymous

    Your read of this ad is selective and clearly biased. The largest piece of road is a play on the cliche holiday ads where people surprise their spouses with a luxury car wrapped in a huge red bow. It has nothing to do with the race of the couple.If you’re going to write about advertising you should probably take context and history into account.

  4. M. Vass

    My read of this commercial is an attempt to look at the subliminal and secondary meanings in this commercial. No more or less.And to correct you the entire ad is a play on the cliche holiday ads. That is the obvious intention. You are failing to look beyond the surface of the commercial, I think.The question is not the history of the commercial. That is given. And I did look at the context, in detail. Because commercials are created in detail, with direct meanings. Which I have stated several times now.Again look at what is happening in the commercial. Look at it’s parts to understand it’s whole. There is more than just selling a car at Christmas going on.It’s not biased to state what is presented. And the nature of every ad is to be selective, that is their purpose.

  5. Anonymous

    With your expostulation you prove the dumbass you are.Stop making something it is not and was never intended to be.

  6. M. Vass

    Obviously you refuse to see what is in the commercial and I am highlighting. You refuse to understand what I am saying and I understand your position.But the main thing that tells me my point is valid is the fact that you both cannot see the trees for the forest and the fact that you cannot defend your point and thus seek to insult me. And a poor attempt at that I might add.I accept you differ from me in your opinion. And I hold what I have stated and the commercial shows. A weak insult does not change the facts as they exist and I have gone into detail to discuss.

  7. Anonymous

    Let’s look at ANOTHER side of the issue with the commercial:1. It is NOT “Piece of the Road”, but “POWER to OWN the Road”.2. It MAY be racist because it does NOT show oriental or hispanic people.3. Since it is NOT “Piece of the Road”, as in “Piece of the Pie” in “Movin’ On Up – to the East Side” a’ la Jeffersons, the take is different.4. IF the commercial had shown the black couple with a BIGGER piece of the road, it COULD have been taken as a STEREOTYPE of the people so STUPID they needed a BIGGER hint to understand the gist of “Power to Own the Road”Either way, people like YOU who LOOK for things that are often NOT THERE would have made something sinister about it. Audi could not win whatever they did.

  8. M. Vass

    Are you calm yet? Done shouting?1. Actually that is worse.2. You may be right but I was not focused on that, and as I stated in the post every commercial does not have to have everyone in it.3.That was an insulting reference. It has no place in an intelligent conversation, but obviously you feel the need to attack rather than converse. I will not sink to such a level.4.Again I never stated anyone should have a bigger section of the road. I mentioned them all being equal. And I suppose that if the commercial went your way it could be possible, though it would odd considering the context of the commercial. Which again is the more serious issue that you fail to recognize.And again people who refuse to accept that when 2 dozen people design every detail of every second of commercial, and several dozen more approved every detail of every second, and then it is place on television to gain the attention of a specific target group of people – All that is purposive. All commercials have secondary meanings. All commercials are giving messages to those in their target group, and as a consequence those that are not.I don’t want to protest Audi. I’m not trying to justify this commercial so I can sleep either. What is there is obvious once you stop to see it. You may not like it, and considering the repeated attempts to shout me down, insult me, or bully me away from my point I feel you must not like knowing it.Honestly Audi is fine. It’s people like anonymous that I worry about.

  9. Heather

    What is the point in arguing over a commercial? It’s a commercial for heavens sake. And no I’m not “white” if I have an opinion I’m native american. There will always be racism I understand that. There are so many common misconception for races such as:

    American indians we’re dirty and savage.

    African Americans are ghetto or if they get anywhere in life they didnt work hard for it or they bribed someone or something along those lines.

    Italians are greasy.

    White people think they own everything.

    Hispanics all do yard work.

    Oriental people are all smart and so forth.

    There are so many racial slurs and such but we shouldn’t let them affect so much as to pick apart a commericial or magazine .

  10. M. Vass

    Heather,

    I thought I made clear the point. Because a commercial is not just that. It is a subliminal statement about the current state of society in America. And to accept that statement without concern is equivalent to promoting that status, in my opinion.

    All the stereotypes and slurs you mention were once thought to be true, or “just a joke”. But it has been through decades if not centuries of effort that some are no longer believed. And even today, many still are percieved the same as in the past. Imagine if no one ever questioned these slurs, how many would remain with the power they once had?

    Will I pick apart a movie, a commercial, a magazine, and so on? Yes, if I feel it has gone over a line.

    That is subjective of course. My line may not be near those of others. But there are many who do feel as I do, but do not have the voice and means to speak out. Or they fear retribution. So I have no problem taking on the extremes as well as those with logical respectful objections to my views.

    The sqeaky door gets the oil. It’s an old saying. But sometimes when people hear that squeaking, they just drown it out instead of fixing it. Because it requires less effort to ignore than to fix something. My goal in these matters is to make it just that harder to turn a blind eye, or a deaf ear.

    Oh, by the way. I could care less what your race is. I don’t care what race ANY of my readers or commentors are.

    I care about respect, honest opinions, logical thought, and open debate. I believe in passionate conversations about issues that are important to people.

    No one has to agree with me. But I will defend my positions because I believe in them with passion. That has nothing to do with race. Neither does the responses of 90% of my readers. And I am glad of that.

    But I believe you are referencing one of my comment replies. I specifically was speaking to one writer and not everyone. I was making a broad point, based on the nature of comments made by an unknown, that may well have been the same person. Was that fair of me? Perhaps not. I am as human as anyone else.

  11. Michael Vass

    Cindi said…
    Dear Author,

    Do you feel there are other current TV commercials that depict African Americans in a “less than equal light,” a negative way, or just to be ‘palatable’ to the Whites?

    If so, please describe.

    Also, do you feel the Audi commerical was intentionally including the African Americans in the ‘lesser view?’

    Thank you,
    Cindi

  12. Michael Vass

    There are many commercials that I have issue with. One of the latest ones is the new Allstate insurance commercial.

    This is the commercial with 3 guys, in thier 20′s, sitting in a room. A young Black male in a hoodie is stating to the White male with insurance, ‘When you are snatching…’

    The commercial at that point diverges to the benefits of the insurance.

    Why must the Black male, if indeed any of these characters, need to be the one describing a crime? It’s quick and subtle, but it infers that the young Black male is a criminal, to no benefit of the product being hawked or anything else.

    There are many such commercials. If you actively watch you will see them.

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