America’s Most Toxic Car Ads: Chevy Colorado vs. Audi A3
8:27 AM PDT on October 13, 2021
This is the second quarterfinal bout in our competition to find America's Most Toxic Car Ad. Don't forget to scroll to the bottom to vote, and click back to the first bout, Hummer EV vs. Dodge Demon, to cast your vote before polls close at 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Oct. 13.
There's nothing funny about all the ways that excessive driving harms our society, but car companies still try to get a few jokes in here and there.
Today, we're joined once again by advocate and adman Tom Flood for a quarterfinal bout between two bad ads that both ask viewers to laugh at some seriously unfunny stuff, from police brutality to hyper-masculine tropes about what kinds of cars "real" men drive.
"These next two are now a completely different form of aggression than the first round," Flood said. "Swap out the violent street racing and male bravado for seriously harmful and toxic attempts at what car companies consider 'humorous,' and you've got these two ads."
Alright, chuckleheads; let's take a look at the contenders.
This Audi A3 mowed down the Lorax-inspired Mazda ad it faced in round one, thanks in no small part to its triggering images of police violence (albeit with not-so-colorblind casting that made all the victims white, natch). Flood points out that its jokey environmental messaging is also more than a little muddled — though he's not particularly surprised.
"The idea that people are being harassed for not being environmentally friendly enough when they throw out batteries or use plastic bags, but should get the 'green' light for driving a 'clean diesel' car is self-indulgent tunnel vision at its most absurd," said Flood. "But then again, this is an auto manufacturer giving lectures on being green, so what else do you expect? Sigh..."
What most A3 buyers probably didn't expect was that their "clean" cars would be implicated in the infamous 2015 "Diesel Dupe," in which it was revealed that Audi's parent company, Volkswagen, had violated the Clean Air Act by equipping thousands of their vehicles with "defeat device" software that could detect when cars were being subjected to an emissions test, and temporarily tell the car's engine to pollute less — and then go right back to riding dirty as soon as the car rolled out of the inspection center. As a result, some Audi cars were found to emit nitrogen oxide up to 40 times the amount allowed by U.S. law.
The reason VW did this, of course, was exactly as gross as you'd expect: because without the defeat device, their cars didn't accelerate as quickly and got fewer miles to the gallon, costing drivers more money despite emitting less. The company feared those "performance issues" would impact their sales in the long run.
Or, as Flood elegantly put it: "We all know the only 'green' Audi is looking to defend isn't the Earth. It's their bottom line."
This 2015 ad's victory over a 2005 ad for the exact same car in round one strongly suggests that car marketing is just getting worse — or, in this case, more jaw-droppingly sexist than ever. But even an adman like Flood, who's probably sat through a few actual focus group like the one caricatured in this spot, was a little taking aback by just how bad it got.
"This is truly the epitome of our toxic male bully culture," Flood said. "It's perpetuating so many harmful narratives in a perverse pageant of stereotypes. I can’t believe it isn't satire."
Though Chevy intersperses its parade of tropes with jokes from little kids about how sedan drivers are wimps, Flood isn't kidding when he calls ads like this "harmful." A 2020 Michigan State University study found that men who buy into ideals equating masculinity with rugged individualism, suppressing emotion and excessive "toughness" "can become socially isolated as they age, impacting their health, well-being and overall happiness" — and that's not even to mention the violent effect that toxic masculinity too often has on everyone besides toxic men themselves.
"I'm not sure how this one can be topped," Flood adds. "I’m offended as a human and marketer. My God, if I were in this segment’s demographic, I would be humiliated that this is how I’m seen by Chevy."
We have a feeling we know how Flood will be voting in this round, but you might beg to differ. Time to make your voice heard.
Polls will be open until Monday, Oct. 18 at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Here's the complete bracket for those playing along at home.
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