Audi Sends in the Clowns for This Madcap Ad About How to Avoid Them on the Road

Colorful metaphor from BBH and Ringan Ledwidge

Headshot of Tim Nudd

A lot of car advertising treats the obstacles that drivers face on the road as literally faceless threats—an avalanche of rocks tumbling across a mountainside road, or a piece of cargo falling blamelessly off a pickup truck in the city.

But let’s face it. The real problem on the roads is the other drivers. Or, if you like, the clowns who share the streets with us.

Audi and BBH London take that playful epithet and run with it in an entertaining 90-second spot directed by Ringan Ledwidge (who famously teamed up with BBH London five years ago for the amazing “Three Little Pigs” spot for the Guardian).

As simple as it is, the concept also lends itself to brilliant visuals, as the Audi drivers have to deal with all sorts of clowns driving all sorts of clown cars (and buses). It’s all set to a whispering version of Sondheim’s “Send In the Clowns” by Faultline and Lisa Hannigan.

“Clown Proof” is about as perfect an end line as you’ll see in a commercial, and the whole production has an inspired lunacy to it—with almost every scene delivering chuckles. (The balloon scene, which seemed to have so much promise, is the one that falls a little flat.)

The somber soundtrack is an interesting choice, paired with the frenetic visuals. It gives the impression that the clowns are, in the end, sad sacks—tragic figures who serve as foils for the Audi drivers, all safe and superior in the anonymity of their high-tech rides. It also keeps the spot from devolving into farce, which would undermine the seriousness of auto safety.

The spot does try to wedge in a handful of actual Audi safety features, too (including pre sense city, cross traffic rear assist, quattro all-wheel-drive, Matrix LED highlights, adaptive cruise control and Audi side assist). This is a bit of a fool’s errand, so to speak—the ad shouldn’t have to function as a product demo, and in fact, the park-assist ending is a bit dissonant, as the challenges of parallel parking don’t have much to do with one’s fellow drivers.

Still, it’s an inspired visual metaphor and a fresh way of bringing the safety message to life.

Client: Audi U.K.
Benjamin Braun, Marketing Director, Audi U.K.
BBH Creative Team: Doug Fridlund (Copywriter), Mikael Alcock (Art Director)
BBH Creative Director: Ian Heartfield (ECD)
BBH Strategist: Ed Kurland
BBH Strategy Director: Damien Le Castrec
BBH Business Lead: Polly McMorrow
BBH Account Manager: Zara Scriven
BBH Account Director: François-Xavier Hafner
BBH Producer: David Lynch
BBH Assistant Producer: Charlie Hurlock
Production Company: Rattling Stick
Director: Ringan Ledwidge
Executive Producer: Katie Keith
Producers: Tim Nunn, Sally Humphries
DoP: Adam Arkapaw
Post Production: The Mill
Editor/Editing House: Work Editorial – Rich Orrick
Sound: String and Tins
Music Credits
Head of Music & Music Supervisor: Ayla Owen
Music Supervisor: Julz Baldwin
Record Producer: David Kosten
Artist: Faultline featuring Lisa Hannigan
Song: “Send In the Clowns” (written by Stephen Sondheim & published by Warner Chappell)

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.
Publish date: September 28, 2017 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT