An online ad needs to have something truly special for me to watch the whole thing. Audi, in its newest YouTube commercial, has that special je ne sais car that hooked me: Claire Danes.
The ad, “Claire Danes’ Choice – Audi Smart Performer,” runs under four minutes, but plays like a short film. Claire is shown in prison, gorgeous enough to actually make orange look like the new black. A flashback sequence reveals how she got there: she needs to get to an event in New York, and she has the option of making the 700-mile trek in a town car with a mustached driver or by herself in a sparkling white 2014 Audi A6 TDI. Two versions of Claire get into the two different cars. Town car-Claire has to deal with a chauffer who has dreams about communicating with reef sharks (“they didn’t speak so much as they rapped”), and, oh yeah, jail. Audi-Claire, on the other hand, frolics in a gold-washed world of puppies, which—well, puppies.
“I drove almost 700 miles on a single tank!” Audi-Claire beams.
“I made you this,” says town car-Claire’s cellmate. “It’s a shiv.”
What I’ve gleaned from this YouTube ad: driving an Audi > not driving an Audi
In recent years, television has been upping the ante on the quality of home entertainment, elevating content to a movie-magic level. Why can’t ads do the same? This mini episode wasn’t watchable only because of Ms. Danes and her furry co-stars. The cinematic elements–film-quality camera work, clever banter, quick editing–push what is arguably a common car commercial plot to a level where you will rethink pressing the “Skip Ad” icon. Funny thing, there weren’t that many shots of the actual car. The short relied on its entertainment value, and only got heavy-handed about the A6’s fuel economy, which at 38 mph highway, is a reasonable brag.
“Audi Smart Performer” reminded me of a series of eight short films, collectively called The Hire, that BMW made for its website in 2001, back when YouTube was just a twinkle in the Internet’s eye. Clearly ahead of its time, BMW turned to legends like Ang Lee, Guy Ritchie, and John Woo to direct the eight to ten minute videos, all starring Clive Owen and an array of cars and stars: the 330i Coupé, Adriana Lima, the 740i, James Brown, the Z4 Roadster, Gary Oldman, —the list goes on.
Like Audi’s most recent ad, The Hire is so much more than a commercial. The character-driven videos are both thoughtful and thought-provoking, cinematic and clever, some suspenseful, some — like, my favorite, Madonna throwing a diva fit — comedic. Wong Kar-Wai’s contribution was included in the Cannes Film Festival! Instead of making me feel spoon-fed and annoyed, commercials with this kind of flair for entertainment make me feel like my time is valuable, like my intelligence appreciated. A whole lot of other people must have felt the same way because after releasing the first segment of The Hire in 2001, BMW’s sales went up 12%.
Could Audi be on to something here? Now that the commercial has over three million views (and counting), I hope other car companies take note.
Until then, I will continue to “Skip Ad.”
Christina Wolfgram is a blogger who, like most Angelenos, pretty much lives in her car (a 2011 Ford Fiesta. ¡Ole!) Her mission? To investigate the California car-mosphere. Visit CityThink every other week to experience L.A. from this Lady Driver’s perspective, and follow her adventures on Twitter @TheCWolf.