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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Pundits Blow Whistle on Green Police

Air Date: Week of

The Audi A3 TDI played a supporting role to the Green Police (Courtesy of Audi)

Audi new ad featured an aggressive law enforcement agency called the Green Police. The eco-officers nab people for crimes ranging from improper composting to incandescent bulb usage. Host Jeff Young asks media analyst John Carroll why this lighthearted ad has stirred up so much controversy.


YOUNG: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young. If you watched the Superbowl, you might have caught the new ad for Audi’s A3 TDI, a low-emissions diesel car. The ad features an aggressive eco-vice squad.

AD: Okay, so it’s 37.08. Paper or Plastic? Plastic. That’s the magic word – Green Police. You picked the wrong day to mess with the ecosystem, plastic boy!


AD: Battery! Battery! Let’s go, take the house. Put the rind down. Sir, that’s a compost infraction!

YOUNG: The green police bust enviro-violators for plastic bottles and incandescent light bulbs. They inspect cars at a roadblock, where the Audi, of course, gets the green light.

AD: We got a TDI here, clean diesel. You are good to go, Sir.


YOUNG: Well that Superbowl spot kicked off a bit of controversy with conservatives, liberals, environmentalists and industry all feeling equally aggrieved by Audi’s ad. John Carroll’s here to help us work out just what’s going on. He teaches Mass Communication at Boston University and when it comes to over-thinking advertising he’s our go-to-guy. John – welcome back!

CARROLL: Nice to be back.

YOUNG: Well, Audi’s trying to sell the green car of the year here by poking fun at greens. That’s kind of an odd way to try and sell something, isn’t it?

CARROLL: Not really, I mean I think what they’re looking for is an audience that can appreciate this kind of approach. This is a terrific spot for a number of different reasons. One of them is the pacing of the spot – they have the audience on a string for the first 45 seconds, not knowing who this thing was for until they rolled out the Audi.

The Audi A3 TDI played a supporting role to the Green Police (Courtesy of Audi)

The other part of it is the execution; I mean they had rolled every visual cliché available from newscast, entertainment programs, advertising all into one sort of green pig-in-a-blanket. And it’s so visual comforting that it just draws people in to the action. And then the third thing is the ambiguity of it. Even now, the debate’s going on: who should really be offended by this? And you don’t know who’s behind the thing for so long – it could be the treemuggeratti, it could be the plastics industry, it could be Al Gore – you have no idea. And that’s kept it alive for a whole week.

YOUNG: And here we are doing our part by talking about it.

CARROLL: Exactly.

YOUNG: A lot of people took this fairly seriously and seemed to get a little ticked off. Let’s start with the environmentalists. They say this is a negative portrayal. Environmental blogger Adam Segal declared it “offensive on many levels. It promotes a view of environmentalism as heading toward a police state.”

CARROLL: I think that’s going a little bit overboard. The egotists dislike this spot because it reinforces the common image of the sort of know-it-all, P.C. hall monitors who are out there. And I think that upsets them because people don’t take them seriously enough when they go out and try to deliver their message. So I think what they’re seeing is their credibility being chipped away at.

YOUNG: The conservative blogosphere also lit up over this with comments like this one: “Wake up, people, the green police are already here!”

CARROLL: Yeah, I think that’s part of it, that’s half of the conservatives. The other group of conservatives who dislike it is that it makes the green police look like Monty Python rather than the menace that conservatives believe they are. So, there are so many different shades of green here that you can see in this spot. It’s one of the best things about the spot. I mean, it’s a litmus test or a Rorschach test for every interest group out there.

YOUNG: You know, actually, I think they mostly resemble the guys at “Reno 9-1-1”.


YOUNG: If anybody should be offended it should be them, they got ripped off here, but that’s just my impression. And lastly, the plastics industry is offended here – the plastics counsel put their own website in retaliation called: Green Police Confused, with helpful tips about why plastics are really good for you. What do you think – did the plastics guys get a bum rap in this ad?

A hot tub owner resists arrest from the Green Police. (Courtesy of Audi)

CARROLL: I think they’re an easy target, I think they feel unfairly singled out, but it’s everybody who’s being sort of mocked here and held up for satire.

YOUNG: You know, I like it, I chuckled. And they had me from the get-go because I’m a sucker for power pops, so I heard the opening chords of that Cheap Trick song and just psshhh –


YOUNG: But I had a hard time figuring out who’s the target audience? What’s the demographic they’re after here?

CARROLL: Well one of the theories is that the demographic they’re after is upscale. It’s obvious that it’s upscale white males who are being busted in these scenarios. From one standpoint anyway that the upscale male who wants to be environmentally conscious but doesn’t really want to work at it too much can go out and buy a cool car and do his bit for the environment.

So I think it’s not the committed, they don’t need to attract them – they’ve already got them. It’s the people who are looking for a way that’s easy and stylish to be environmentally conscious, and if they have enough money those are the ones who I think Audi is targeting.

YOUNG: You know, this is kind of a tough sell for Audi ‘cause the clean diesel is not really a well known concept here, I think it’s better known in Europe, but here it almost sounds like an oxymoron to people who remember older diesel vehicle, which were quite dirty. They’re not really playing up the car itself in this ad, are they?

CARROLL: No, I don’t think that’s the purpose of this. There’s a 106 million people watching, having fun, eating nachos and drinking beer. I mean I don’t think they want to get into any kind of serious discussion of clean diesel at that point. I think what they want to do is get themselves on the radar screen. I think the whole purpose of this was to grab people’s attention and let them know that the car is there.

YOUNG: John Carroll teaches Mass Communications at Boston University and blogs at campaignoutsider dot com. Thanks a lot.

CARROLL: Thank you, Jeff.

Watch the Green Police in action.



The plastics industry quickly posted a new website in response.

Audi has more adventures from the Green Police as well as a free mp3 for the reworked Cheap Trick hit.

Hear more of John Carrol's media analysis here.


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