The ASA has investigated an Audi TV ad featuring a group of clowns seen, well, clowning around on the road, causing hazards which Audi drivers are forced to avoid with the help of their cars’ safety features and driver aids. The UK regulator found the ad not in breach.

It is an interesting one in light of the recently upheld rulings against Ford and, in particular, Fiat and Nissan (see my note on these).

The Audi ad received one complaint, claiming that it exaggerated the benefits of the car's safety features and suggested that these features allowed the car to be driven in complete safety. The ASA disagreed, sensibly concluding that people would understand there were limitations with these technologies.

Notably, there were no complaints that the ad encouraged unsafe driving. Despite this, Audi's response to the ASA was at pains to head off any such suggestion. In the end, the ASA didn't really touch on this point in its own analysis.

This is surprising, given the recent upheld rulings against the Nissan and Fiat ads. Those ads were found to have encouraged unsafe driving, despite the Fiat ad being set in a fantastical cityscape (complete with a loop-the-loop) and the Nissan ad using an example of poor driving purely to showcase the car's safety credentials.

The Audi ad was set on real roads and involved plenty of unsafe driving. So what was the difference?

A key factor may be that the clowns and their ridiculous antics – driving buses with pie spattered faces, floating dreamily into power lines under a bunch of balloons, applying lipstick whilst parked across lanes – add just enough incredulity to the overall picture. By contrast, the ASA considered the Fiat ad to be on balance just a little too close to reality.

Also, in the Audi ad the bad driving came from the comical clowns, not the real-world Audi drivers; and it was so bad that no one could possibly take it (or them) seriously. The ASA noted that the Audis were not moving particularly quickly and pointed to the fact that the safety features were engaged as a result of actions taken by other drivers (unlike in the Nissan ad where the driver was at fault).

Perhaps that's why the ASA (probably quite rightly) didn't feel it necessary to consider the unsafe driving angle, which they could have done, even though it wasn't raised by the complainant.