A TV ad for Audi, seen on 19 June 2018. The ad featured the song 'Send In The Clowns' and included various scenes of clowns driving dangerously or otherwise causing hazards for Audi drivers. The first scene showed two clowns in a car reversing down a hill while playing tricks on each other and not paying attention. The Audi was about to reverse onto the road, and as the car with the clowns passed, a camera in the Audi showed them passing as a warning signal flashed up on screen and the car braked.
A second scene showed another clown applying lipstick looking into his rear view mirror and swerving across the road, requiring another Audi car to brake sharply. The dashboard showed a message stating "Audi pre sense" as the car braked in time to avoid crashing. A third scene showed another Audi braking at a crossroads as a van drove past at speed, spilling its contents over the road.
A further scene showed a clown holding onto some balloons and ascending into the sky, breaking a wire as she rose, and causing the street lights to go out suddenly. The Audi's headlights instantly became much brighter. Another Audi was then shown being overtaken and surrounded by a number of clowns on bikes. The car's dashboard showed the text "Driver assist" and images showing the car apparently sensing the bikes. On-screen text stated, “some technology as standard and operates within certain distance and speed parameters”.
Finally, a scene showed a car reversing into a tight space between two clown vehicles, with the steering wheel appearing to turn without the driver's intervention.
On-screen text at the end of the ad stated, "Audi Technology. Clown proof".
The complainant challenged whether the ad exaggerated the benefit of safety features to consumers and suggested that the vehicles' features enabled them to be driven in complete safety.
Volkswagen Group UK Ltd t/a Audi said they strongly believed the ad highlighted the existence and potential benefits of driver assistance features to consumers and did not exaggerate the benefit of those features or suggest that the features enabled Audi vehicles to be driven faster or in complete safety. They believed that presenting safety features being deployed within their parameters could not, by itself, suggest that those features enabled a vehicle to be driven in complete safety, and certainly not where the focus was on driver assistance warnings, which presupposed that the driver must act in response to avoid a hazard. They said on-screen text warned of distance and speed parameters.
Audi said the setting and use of clowns was clearly fantastical, and that no real people were shown on the streets, only clowns. They said the behaviour and driving of the clowns was comical throughout and exaggerated to a ridiculous extent. Scenes such as a clown floating away in the sky on balloons clearly demonstrated the absurdity of that world. They believed the average viewer would not conclude that the ad depicted realistic driving scenes in the real world and would interpret the closing strapline, “Audi Technology. Clown proof”, in the specific context of the ad.
Audi said it was necessary, in order to present new driver assistance and safety features, to show potentially hazardous situations where those features could actually provide assistance, which was something they said the ASA had previously accepted. They said the ad presented hazards in an imaginative but responsible way.
Audi said the hazards presented in the ad arose from the clowns’ ludicrous behaviour – they were external factors over which no driver could have control. However, Audi and BBH, the agency who created the ad, had been very careful to ensure those hazards would not trigger an unrealistic depiction of the relevant Audi technology and were not likely to give rise to unrealistic expectation of that technology or over-reliance on it. They said, even in the obviously fantastical world, the performance of Audi technology was accurately and conservatively reflected. They said, while the extent of any driver intervention was not made clear, the vehicles were shown to provide warnings and respond in line with the capabilities of the technology even without any such driver intervention. They said the technology was not taken close to the limit and ‘near-misses’ were not particularly near, and that there was no exaggeration of the benefit of safety features.
Audi said, in contrast to the clowns, nothing in the presentation of the driving of the Audi vehicles gave the impression of anything other than responsible driving. They said the clowns and their vehicles were so absurdly presented that nothing in their behaviour could seriously be said to condone or encourage irresponsible driving in real world driving conditions.
Audi said there was nothing in the ad to suggest that the vehicles’ features enabled them to be driven in complete safety or that the drivers could rely on the technology to avoid taking responsibility for driving safely in line with the Highway Code. They said the driver assistance features were not exaggerated in a way that could serve to encourage over-reliance on them, and that in fact they were presented in an exceptionally calm and conservative fashion. They said vehicles were shown travelling at safe speeds only, braking steadily and coming to a quick but steady stop.
Audi said there was nothing to raise any inference that drivers were not paying appropriate attention to the road, or to suggest that viewers did not need to do so. In line with the fantastical concept, the ad did not include any express shots of the drivers, but a driver’s point of view shot showed the clown lorry approaching from the left, and a further driver’s point of view shot showed clowns approaching on a motorbike in the vehicle’s side-view mirror. They said, while the ad did feature prominently, on three occasions, shots of technology alerting drivers to potential hazards, through on-screen warnings, it did nothing to suggest that the drivers did not themselves spot the hazards. It simply showed, in a factually accurate way, the prompts that the technology could provide. In addition, they said those prompts were provided so that the driver could take action, if they were not taking action already. They said viewers would, in fact, infer that if they ignored the warning, the hazard would present a threat to safety. Audi said by definition, a warning with a flashing hazard sign indicated danger, not complete safety. They said the disclaimer “some technology as standard and operates within certain distance and speed parameters” made it even clearer there were limits to the effectiveness of the technologies in the real world.
Clearcast said most viewers would not arrive at the interpretation that the ad exaggerated the various safety features of the car or that it suggested it would give drivers complete safety on the road. They believed viewers would understand that the ad was communicating the various safety features of the car in a surreal landscape of driving clowns who provided the analogy of poor driving and unexpected hazards which the technology was designed to assist the driver to avoid.
They said the only exaggeration within the ad was the fanciful, appalling driving and other silly antics of the clowns. The safety features were not exaggerated and the on-screen text that stated, “some technology as standard and operates within certain distance and speed parameters” made clear to viewers there were limits to their effectiveness in the real world, and that the technology was not a guarantee of safety. They said that Audi vehicles were shown being driven in line with the Highway Code throughout the ad.
The ASA noted that the ad highlighted various different features associated with Audi cars across several scenes. We considered that viewers would understand that the scenes were not depictions of real-life scenarios, and were likely to consider the references to clowns as intended to represent bad or dangerous drivers, which the Audi’s safety features could help drivers guard against.
While we considered viewers would not take the claim “clown proof” as a literal claim that the features could prevent all incidents caused by other drivers, it was nevertheless necessary to ensure that the ad did not create a level of perceived safety in relation to other drivers that was not achievable. We noted the on-screen text which stated, “some technology as standard and operates within certain distance and speed parameters”, but we considered that was unlikely to alter the impression created by the visual elements of the ad that portrayed the safety features.
We noted that the Audi vehicles in the ad were not shown moving particularly quickly, and although it was not clear in each scene whether the technology had alerted the driver to a relevant danger or whether the technology itself had acted in response to that danger, we considered that viewers would generally understand warning lights to be driver aids, and we understood that the vehicle was capable of automatically applying the brakes. Given that, we did not consider that the ad exaggerated the benefit of the safety features by presenting the cars taking actions that they were not to take. In addition, we considered that viewers would understand that there were limitations on what such technology could achieve. They would also take the references to clowns as a humorous and exaggerated way of depicting scenarios in which the technology would act, rather than as a suggestion that the technology was so effective that it could deal with any eventuality and therefore that cars which included that technology could be driven in complete safety.
For those reasons, we considered that the ad did not exaggerate the benefit of safety features to consumers or suggest that the vehicles' features enabled them to be driven in complete safety, and concluded that it had not breached the Code.
We investigated the ad under BCAP Code rule 20.5 20.5 Motoring advertisements must not exaggerate the benefit of safety features to consumers or suggest that a vehicle's features enable it to be driven or ridden faster or in complete safety. but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.