Of course, all Super Bowl TV ads by definition are horribly unethical, exploiting for commerce a professional blood sport that renders healthy young men brain-damaged for a drooling public’s coarse amusement. To Hell with all the ads I say. Still, some are worse than others.
History suggests that the obnoxious Audi commercial above won’t be the worst, but it nicks a wider range of ethical breaches than the typical Super Bowl ad. For that it deserves, at very least, a hardy Ethics Alarm Bronx cheer, or “raspberry”…
The major ethics breach in the ad is its advancement of the Big Lie That Will Not Die, the contention that in 2017 American women are systematically discriminated against in wages and not paid what men are for the same work based on gender. Studies have debunked this “Equal Rights Amendment” era trope; the figures defy it; common sense does too. Never mind: for decades we have been told by Democratic politicians, women’s rights activists and the news media that “women earn only 77 cents for every dollar men earn for the same work.” It is one of the most successful examples of a falsehood taking root in the culture as “truth” through repetition alone.
Even the high profile protests involving the myth are self-refuting, like women’s professional soccer players complaining that they aren’t paid the same as the male stars.
Audi’s suck-up to the Hillary Clinton base (the ad was commissioned and scripted when all assumed she would be elected President) begins with a nauseating assumption of a societal injustice that doesn’t exist except for random pockets of troglodysm scattered across the landscape, (including, unfortunately, the White House). Few think women are not as “valued” as men, but Audi’s commercial pretends this is the norm, and in so doing, spreads the lie that it is. Yup, Hillary lost because she has a vagina and women aren’t valued, not because she’s inept, dishonest, corrupt, ran a terrible campaign and has “public and private positions.”
Audi thus panders beyond belief, basing its entire, multi-million dollar ad (the thing cost 5 million bucks per 30 seconds, plus production costs) on the cognitive dissonance scale,
… presuming that so positively do viewers regard “equal pay” (Audi assumes it’s a +10) that the mere statement that Audi “is committed” to it will yank the automobile (at +3, let’s say; the brand is way below zero for me because my horrible uncle and his sons were obsessed with Audis and…but that’s another story), up the scale by association, regardless of whether the car itself is any good.
Yes, I know that the scale is the life’s blood of advertising and has been for centuries, which is why babies, dogs and celebrities have always been used to sell products having nothing to do with babies, dogs and celebrities. Still, using a fake political rallying cry as the cognitive dissonance magnet is especially cynical.
That’s not all. As Jack Baruth expertly explains as he dissects the spot here, the ad is classist, misandrist and more, stereotyping males as fat villains, females as a superior species, and wealth as the ultimate virtue:
“At the end, what does this ad do? It just reinforces our natural biases. Poor is bad, rich is good, and most importantly, rich people deserve their fortune because they are inherently better than the rest of us. You might not like that message, but it’s been selling cars for a very long time. If Audi wanted to try some authentic activism, they might consider showing us an African-American man or woman who overcame a tough upbringing to become an actual customer, or perhaps a differently-abled person who’s achieved enough to buy himself an S8 as a reward for his hard work. But that’s not terribly aspirational, is it? Who wants to be those people? And, by the same token, who wouldn’t want to be that handsome father lifting his beautiful daughter out of someone else’s winning race car?”