Viral Review: Audi ‘Test Drives’ A New Style Of Ad

This article orginally appeared in Campaign. 

It takes a pretty exceptional effort to make an automobile advert that stands out. After all, how many times can viewers see a low-slung sports car bombing it around a track before they get the idea? Beyond a few ingenious examples of car advertising, it isn’t really a genre which offers a tremendous amount of variety.

Audi is a brand which understands this quandary, and its latest spot ‘Test Drive’ does its damnedest to break the mould. How does it do this, you ask? By suggesting that viewers simply aren’t tough enough to drive their cars. It’s a feat of quite remarkable reverse psychology, resulting in one of the more memorable automobile ads in recent years.

‘Test Drive’ begins at a secluded racetrack, lingering on shots of vintage racers, dusty trophies and all things Americana. Into the frame comes actor Michael Maino, with a racing jacket and slicked hair, looking like the archetypal wise greaseball from every road trip film ever.

“You might say this is my first rodeo, but that’s not strictly accurate,” he grumbles, “You see, I am the rodeo.”

Yeah, we have no idea what that means either, but it certainly sounds pretty cool. As Maino guides us through the test drive, he describes his parade of glamorous Audis not as mere vehicles, but as dangerous bucking broncos. Director Salomon Ligthelm reflects this sentiment, focusing on the cars’ roaring engines and luminous eye-like headlights. This may be the first car advert that’s intended to make you scared of driving.

Audi and agency Venables Bell & Partners have spared no expense in driving this point home. As Maino describes the ferocious horsepower of the Audis, we see a CGI simulation of a thousand horseshoes plummeting towards the earth. In another scene, vicious wasps suddenly transform into bullets as the car barrels around another tight corner.

Second to second, it’s more than a little inscrutable, but ‘Test Drive’ doesn’t care a bit. This is unapologetically style before substance, and it’s fairly exhilarating.

Interestingly, ‘Test Drive’ comes hot on the heels of another blockbuster Audi spot, ‘Driver’s Test’.

While the titles may immediately suggest a slight failure of imagination, the content couldn’t be any more different. In last month’s ad, the brand teamed up with Spider-Man’s Tom Holland and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s JB Smoove to produce a charming little sketch about Peter Parker trying to pass his driving test. While pairing your brand with a summer movie hit is never a bad move, ‘Driver’s Test’ rocketed to over 8 million views thanks to a likeable tone and spot-on execution.

Though these two campaigns couldn’t be more stylistically diverse, both ‘Test Drive’ and ‘Driver’s Test’ show that Audi are currently one of the most nimble brands out there. Who says all car adverts need to look the same?

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