A TV ad for the Audi R8, seen on 15 April 2016, in which a car was heard accelerating through its gears while the passing lights of a road were shown in the reflection of an eye where the pupil was shown contracting and dilating. The car was then shown going around a corner in a tunnel in slow motion, before a shorter clip of the eye returned. Text then appeared, stating "More focus, more drive. The all new Audi R8 V10 plus with carbon ceramic brakes". The final shot was of the car braking to a halt on what appeared to be a race track.
The complainant, who believed the ad linked speed with excitement, challenged whether the ad was irresponsible.
Volkswagen Group UK Ltd t/a Audi said the main message of the ad was that the new R8 was Audi's most focused drive yet, with key features tuned to improve performance and an all-round improved driving experience. The ad was particularly intended to highlight the car's carbon-ceramic brakes, the new, naturally aspirated engine (which they said gave a fuller and sharper sound), and the 7-speed S-Tronic gearbox.
Audi said they disagreed that the ad linked speed with excitement or that it was irresponsible. They said the ad was not about speed and was carefully shot (with cars travelling at speeds of less than 30 mph) and edited to avoid giving any impression of speed. Consequently, if the ad had shown excitement, it would not be linked with speed. However, Audi said the ad did not show excitement, as the dilating and contracting pupil denoted concentration and focus, which was a documented scientific phenomenon. They said the pupil was shown dilating with braking and a downward change of gear, as well as with acceleration (which they noted happened at low speeds) and upward changes of gear, reflecting increased concentration and focus at those points.
With regard to impressions of speed, Audi said that the ad was shot with the car travelling at speeds of 30 mph or below, with the scene in the tunnel presented in slow motion, and that care was taken to ensure that the car did not appear to be travelling at speed. They noted that in the shots which focused on the eye, it was possible to gain an impression of the speed of the car by looking at the reflection of the tunnel lights as they passed. Had the car been travelling at speed, the lights would be passing at a great speed or would be a blur, but in the ad were shown moving slowly past. Audi said the first 12 seconds of the ad soundtrack included engine sound, in order to showcase the sound of the new engine and quick changes (both up and down) of the gearbox. They had replaced the sound of the engine where it would have been at its loudest with instrumental music, removing the only possible indication that the car was being driven at speed and softening the climax of the shot. They said that, while the car was capable of rapid acceleration and high speeds, the ad showed the car running at moderate speeds in slow motion and slowing down on a racetrack until it came to a halt. There was no excessive speed, dangerous or competitive driving, and the ad did not encourage irresponsible driving. Audi said that, to the extent that the soundtrack hinted at acceleration or speed, it was counteracted by the overriding visuals, which did not show the car moving fast. Moreover, even if viewers did perceive an impression of speed, this was permissible because the specific focus on the car's brakes placed the ad in the clear context of safety.
In relation to showing excitement, Audi said the ad was not intended to portray any excitement. They believed the only possible perception of excitement would be through the driver's pupil being shown to dilate, but noted that excitement was only one of a great number of factors which could cause pupil dilation and that it was by no means the only or the most well-known. Other factors included reduced light exposure, pain, and intense focus, thought and concentration. They had intended to highlight this latter factor through the sequence in question, hence the endline "More focus, more drive". They said that pupil dilation as a result of intense concentration had been long-established in the scientific community. Nonetheless, Audi did not believe that consumers would link the dilation and contraction of the pupil in the ad with any particular emotional state or consider it in detail beyond appreciating it as a visually arresting sequence. They said it was created using CGI (computer generated imagery) and was clearly fantastical and not representative of real life because no pupil would dilate and contract in such a way. However, if consumers did consider the dilation and contraction further, they would appreciate from the endline that the reason for this change was due to concentration and focus. Audi said that, as the car was not shown at speed and because there was no suggestion of excitement, they disagreed that the ad linked speed with excitement.
Clearcast said that the ad had been edited specifically to reduce any apparent references to speed, with work done to reduce the passing of the lights over the eye of the driver and to temper some of the sound effects from the car. They believed the ad did not show excessive speed, and that it was hard to determine from the ad the actual speed of the car. Although there was some sense that the car was being driven purposefully, any actual shots of the car presented it at a very sedate pace. Clearcast said that, most fundamentally, the power and handling of the car were shown in a context of safety, as required by the Code; in this case the safer and more effective ceramic brakes. They referred to a previous ASA ruling, which had accepted that the capabilities of a car could be explicitly shown in the context of showcasing engineering, and said that the ad in question focused both on engineering and a safety feature.
The ad initially showed a driver's pupil changing size while accompanied by sounds from the car's engine. We acknowledged Audi's view that the sounds were intended to feature the new engine and gearbox, and that any implication of speed or acceleration was dispelled by the accompanying visuals. However, we considered that it was unclear from the visuals in the ad how fast the car was going, as it was not easy to interpret the speed of the car from the tunnel light reflections, and that viewers' primary understanding of the car's speed in this section of the ad would come from the sound of the acceleration. Several upward changes of gear could be heard and we considered that, without clear visual context to clarify what speed and acceleration was represented by the sounds, it was likely to be interpreted by viewers as quick acceleration, leading to more than moderate speed. The ad then showed the car, but as it was presented in slow motion it was not possible to tell at what speed it was travelling. Also, it was no longer accompanied by the sound of the engine and gear changes, so could not give further context to the sounds heard during the eye scene, and therefore no comparison for the viewer was possible. In light of this, while we acknowledged that the scenes in which the car was visible did not show it being driven fast, we considered that the presentation of the ad gave an implication of speed and acceleration.
We noted Audi and Clearcast's assertion that any speed or acceleration in the ad was presented in the context of a focus on engineering and a safety feature, which they understood would be acceptable. We considered that, where advertisers intended to focus on engineering aspects of the car, they should still take care to ensure the overall presentation of the ad was responsible. We acknowledged that the engine sounds were intended to demonstrate the new engine and gearbox, but this was not referenced explicitly and we did not consider that viewers would understand from the ad, including the line "More focus, more drive" that this was the main message. We also considered that, although a good braking system was a vital feature of car safety, demonstrating that such a system was installed was not necessarily an example of a clear context of safety. The ad featured the car coming to a halt on a racetrack, after sequences with prominent engine and gear noises, and ambiguous visual treatment of speed. We therefore considered that the overall presentation was of a car coming to a stop after being driven at speed and that the impression given was not one of road safety in general but that the R8 was equipped with brakes sufficient to handle the power and speed previously demonstrated. We therefore did not consider that the presentation of information about the ceramic brakes constituted a context of safety.
We considered that viewers would interpret the changes in pupil size as an emotional response to the movement of the car, as represented by the sounds that were audible during the eye sequence. We acknowledged that these sounds included an instance of moving down a gear, but this was less prominent or noticeable than the acceleration and upward gear change sounds heard in the same sequence, and we did not consider that it was as likely to be noticed by viewers. Although we appreciated that there were a range of factors that could cause pupils to dilate, we considered that viewers were generally unlikely to understand the fluctuations in pupil size as indicative of focus and concentration, or subsequently link this visual treatment to the endline "More focus, more drive". Instead, they were more likely to interpret the sequence as a positive emotional response. Although the specific fluctuations of the pupil may not have been an accurate portrayal of pupil dilation and contraction, we considered that the physiological change it represented was a real one and that it was not sufficiently fantastical or unrealistic as to diminish the link between emotional response and the sounds of the car. In light of the above factors, we considered that the ad linked speed with excitement and concluded that it therefore breached the Code.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Social responsibility) and 20.3 20.3 Motoring advertisements must not demonstrate power, acceleration or handling characteristics except in a clear context of safety. Reference to those characteristics must not suggest excitement, aggression or competitiveness. (Rules for motoring advertisements).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Volkswagen Group UK Ltd to ensure that future ads did not demonstrate power, acceleration or handling characteristics except in a clear context of safety and without the suggestion of excitement.