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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Cambridge / London - £47,000

£40000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing ...

Sauce Recruitment: Sales Executive - Consumer Exhibition - 12 month Fixed Term Con

£20000 - £22000 per annum + up to £22K + commission : Sauce Recruitment: The ...

Sauce Recruitment: Senior Sales Executive - Premium Food and Drink Events

£24000 - £26000 per annum + up to £26K + team commission: Sauce Recruitment: H...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Planning & Analysis Analyst (FP&A)- Entertainment

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A major film studio are looking ...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen