Humor is a big part of Super Bowl advertising. This year, one of the jokes was on the plastics industry.
Whether Madison Avenue was laughing with us, or laughing at us, is a matter of opinion.
By now, no doubt, you've heard about Audi AG's “Green Police” ads for its clean diesel A3 TDI. Chances are also pretty good that you saw the ad on TV. After all, media experts tell us that Super Bowl XLIV was the most-watched television show in history. (View the Audi ad.)
Finally, plastics get a share of the spotlight. But not the way most in the industry would like to see.
The ad shows politically correct “Green Police” arresting users of PET water bottles, polystyrene foam drinking cups and other plastic products.
The commercial starts with a cashier at a check-out: “OK, so it's $37.08. Paper or plastic?” she asks a shopper.
“Plastic,” he replies.
Suddenly, a uniformed officer appears, twists the shopper's hand behind his back and slams his head on the conveyor.
“That's the magic word. Green Police. You picked the wrong day to mess with the eco-system, plastic boy.”
How does that help sell the A3 TDI? The message is that even though the car is diesel-powered, it passes muster with the politically correct Green Police — see, it won the 2010 Green Car of the Year award. So the environmental experts might like to toss you in jail for drinking water from a plastic bottle, but you get a pass if you drive this car.
Humor is a matter of personal taste (how else could you explain Benny Hill?). But this ad works on a couple of levels.
First, there's the time-honored strategy of making fun of plastic. Think about the line from the film The Graduate, which summed up Benjamin Braddock's disconnect with his parents' suburban lifestyle — at the expense of plastics' reputation among hip young people.
So watching Audi's ad today, we learn that plastic T-shirt bags are (still) funny, along with incandescent light bulbs, disposable batteries and backyard whirlpool tubs. But then there's the other level — making fun of the politically correct. In a way, the ad echoes the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Dennis Miller, lampooning the powers that be who sometimes go overboard in the name of fighting for all things green.
We've already seen some communities ban plastic bags and PS food-service packaging. Can you imagine taking it to the next level, and actually arresting people who use them? Absurd, maybe, but close enough to the truth that we can laugh.
The Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council was quick to respond, with a news release and Web site prepared in advance of the airing. ACC highlighted the energy savings that plastics make possible vs. competing materials.
The plastics industry definitely needs to be out there making its case that its products aren't environmental nightmares. Responding to the Audi commercial was a good step — but a more proactive message is sorely needed.
Loepp is managing editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.”