Have you seen the new UK Audi ad, the one with the clowns?
It’s the kind of commercial no one seems to want to make any more. Good insight. Simple idea. Clear message. Memorable execution. Distinctive tone. Great end-line: ‘clown proof’.
I wonder what the brief said. Here's the long version of the film. https://youtu.be/UWKdI6qMUNM
The focus of any creative brief is always the proposition. Yes, you try and get the team into the minds of the target. You tell them about the brand and its story. You talk about where you are and where you want to go.
But it all comes down to the proposition. That’s the bridge. Without a good one, it’s one hell of a leap.
Mark Pollard recently wrote that a good advertising proposition does five things:
It combines a brand truth with a human insight
It’s written in short words
It feels true to creative people
It helps them see ideas immediately
That’s a pretty good checklist, particularly the last point. I always reckon a good briefing is when the creative team go quiet because they’ve already started having ideas.
So what was the proposition in the case of ‘Clowns’?
Maybe it was something like: ‘An Audi makes you feel one step ahead of other drivers.’ I always imagine Audi drivers are high on a Discernment need. Standing apart from others in an inner-directed way. A sense of understated superiority.
Maybe this would have got the team to the idea. Or maybe not. There is a problem with going straight from emotional need to emotional benefit. It can all feel a bit empty. Where’s the substance? As Dave Trott would say, the grit to make the pearl.
So let’s look at this from the gritty end. Of course, Audi is all about the technology. Vorsprung Durch Technic. Interestingly, there’s no single English word that’s an exact equivalent of Vorsprung. Close would be ‘to leap ahead’.
The ad, at one level, is a product demo. Cross Traffic Rear Assist, Quattro All-Wheel Drive, Pre Sense, Matrix Beam, Side Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, even Self Parking Technology - they’re all in there. I can see the client ticking them off one by one.
So maybe the proposition was more functional: ‘The intelligent safety features in your Audi keep a constant lookout, anticipating any unexpected situations that might arise through no fault of your own.’ This is exactly what it says on the Audi website. Not very inspiring, though, is it? And way too long.
But there is another thought on the homepage: ‘We have your back.’ That’s interesting. Turning an explicit need into an implicit one, in this case, Safety.
Sometimes that can work brilliantly. Volkswagen was always all about reliability. ‘Have you ever wondered how the man who drives the snow plough drives to the snow plough?’ But then some brilliant planner turned ‘a Volkswagen is reliable’ into ‘you can rely on a Volkswagen’. And from there you got ‘if only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen’.
But is Safety really the deeper emotional need here? I know we’re talking about safety features but there’s no sense of jeopardy in the film. The unseen Audi drivers remain unflappable throughout. No, I think the need is Discernment.
As an aside, it’s worth remembering Audi and BBH have had a long and fruitful client-agency relationship. Maybe they now communicate in a kind of short-hand. Everyone involved knows the brand and target inside out. Maybe the client wanted to focus on the safety features. Maybe the agency then fell in love with the idea of clowns. But somehow it all worked out swimmingly.
In the end, the key point is the metaphor. The truth of it is that most of us think we are better drivers than we are. The problem isn’t us, it’s everyone else, even though there’s an obvious flaw in that logic.
And the truth about Audi cars is they now have all these clever safety features to make you an even better driver. Almost psychic.
So going back to Mark’s advice, if a good proposition combines a brand truth with a human insight, emotion for good reason, maybe the proposition was something like: ‘With an Audi, you can steer clear of all the clowns on the roads.’
But I doubt it. Hindsight makes geniuses of us all.
And anyway, if the brief had even so much as mentioned clowns, the one thing you can guarantee is there wouldn’t have been any sign of one in the script.
If you know what the brief actually did say, could you let me know?