Peter York On Ads: Not at the wheel, but Bowie drives The Car That Fell To Earth

AUDI A6

I couldn't watch Extras. Ricky Gervais went from Slough to Hollywood in three years max. It was grim. But you couldn't help noticing who was guesting, and the thought of David Bowie in there was deeply depressing. Bowie becalmed, rich, content, but presumably rather hypochondrial after the heart attack. Bowie into stock markets and contemporary art. Bowie US/Global rather than anywhere in particular. Bowie anything but androgynous now.

But once Bowie drove and consolidated a whole sensibility to huge effect. You could see it in hairstyles, clothes, and record production, of course, but in bigger themes as well - a new take on new tech and ways of thinking about America and its everyday surreal without making fun of it. He seemed to know where change was coming; he spent time in alpha cities when they were hotting up. He knew when to get wasted to some purpose.

In the Bowie industry there's always that debate about when he was at his best, most inventive, most influential. I'd go for "Young Americans"(1975) and its Nicholas Roeg-directed film parallel of 1976, The Man Who Fell To Earth. The latter's art direction is brilliant - designers are always visiting it surreptitiously for a few more steals - and "Young Americans" anticipated practically everything that mattered for 10 years from Superdisco to the Reagan presidency.

It all set a look from Soho and Berlin to Tokyo for the developing art/design crowd, the Taschen types, a global minority that's become an important babyboomer consumer group. They're the market for European, high-end design. They'll commission architects to build or re-fix their houses and buy Dries Van Noten rather than Donatella V.

They were in at the beginning of hip hotels in the 1980s as they got richer (and back at Claridge's 10 years later). They're sleeked up and cashed out but they still like black linen. They're crucial to several global niche brands. Where would Audi be without that lot?

Audi was the German car brand for them. Mercedes was crass and oversold, too easy and obvious and Made-it. BMW had gone from Sloane Boy Racer to yuppie to corporate parking space (and, second hand, to Brixton beatbox) in a decade. But Audi was the interesting OK, Dieter Rams-ish side of German, thoughtful and arty and stealth wealthy. More Swedish and Saab than full-on Kraut. Audi is the Edinburgh Television Festival and Sundance and Babington House. Cleverly positioned, culturally aligned (when the London Eye was new, they put an Audi in a pod). The one for Our Crowd.

The new Audi commercial for the A6 makes it The Car That Fell To Earth. It's an extravagant affair, 60 seconds of black and white with a brief burst of colour. A jump-cut video-installation sort of thing combining outback America and outer space, a plinky BBC electronic workshop music track and a host of mission control radio voices. Echoes and whispers, sightings and strangeness. Agitated horses sensing things. And long empty roads at night; the classic sci-fi horror build-up very elegantly done.

Then earth from space and all the old business of sending rockets up and getting them back. Flaring, burning re-entry, all edited like art. Then a little blaze of candy colour, the parachutes for the splashdown. It's not the visual language of mainstream commercials - it's distinctly more Turner Prize so far.

But then they've got something to say, namely that the Audi A6 development alone produced more patents than everything Nasa's done to date. More innovations, more high science. Then something touches down on the water like the returning astronaut capsules and bounces back as the A6, flying at us in a rather alarming vertical take-off.

Brands like Audi have learnt to avoid too many social cues and references that end up as fashion victims and hostages to fortune. They know their core market can read all that stuff only too well. They know it's divisive. But hitting the collective unconscious of the art movie and the art gallery memory bank, underwriting the brand with a strong science alibi rather than the bulls-balls nought-to-whatever macho of racing is the Audi kind of clever. And Bowie's a great reference point, provided you don't let him anywhere near it.

Peter@sru.co.uk

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments