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


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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Guru Careers: PR Account Director / SAM

£50 - 60k (DOE) + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: A PR Account Director / SAM ...

Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Insight Analyst

£32 - £37K + extensive benefits: Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Ins...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific