Did Audi Capture the State of American Space Program in Super Bowl Commercial?

Lost in Time Credit: Audi

Lost in Time
Credit: Audi

Using Apollo imagery in commercials for major sporting events is certainly nothing new. In a 2014 spot for Cadillac, which played throughout the Winter Olympics, we left the keys in the lunar lander cause we had been there, done that and were “bored.” Besides, we were “the only ones going back.” It was pure braggadocio. Given the location of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, it may have been a bit of a jab as well.

The latest contribution comes from Audi, and is vastly different, poignantly capturing the sense of time slipping by and better days in the rear view mirror. An aging astronaut sits lost in time, surrounded by mementos of Mercury and Apollo, in a room with decor taken straight from the era. Only when his son calls him Commander, not “Dad,” and offers him the keys to a sleek Audi R8 does he begin to come alive.

 

Sadly, the timing could not have been more appropriate. The background track is David Bowie’s Starman. Bowie died on January 10th, and the last surviving Apollo 14 astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, passed away on February 4th, the 45th anniversary of the mission.

While the purpose of the commercial is to sell cars, specifically Audis, it also does a surprisingly astute job of capturing what many may feel is the state of the American space program. From the opening words, “Mr. President, thank you for choosing the Moon” to the closing text “choosing the Moon brings out the best in us,” it is difficult not to view in a broader context, whether that was the intention or not.

Given that it has been 44 years since the last Apollo astronaut walked on the Moon, Bowie’s lyrics fit, even though they were written in 1972:

“He told us not to blow cause he knows its all worthwhile” seems both a call back to the challenge of the era, as well as a scolding of what we haven’t done since. Perhaps another American President, one who made a point of not choosing the Moon is being scolded here as well. Or perhaps not.

Of course, it because of the enormity of the accomplishment that “shooting for the Moon” is now a part of the vernacular, and in this case Audi wants the prospective customer to associate its achievement in engineering the R8 with what NASA accomplished during the Apollo Program.

Compared to the Cadillac commercial though, which made an appeal to American exceptionalism, the Audi spot is deeply personal. The astronaut is lost in his own memories and the son simply wants his aging father to engage in life again. The car is the vehicle which makes the connection. In a broader sense, this may be the more important point. Many believe it will not be national pride, but instead individual desire which leads to a permanent expansion into space. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos naturally come to mind, but both are banking on the belief that thousands, if not millions, will eventually ride on the rockets they build.

Assuming that Audi, a German car company, felt the need to make a comment on American space policy during the most American of events, is a vast stretch, even if the new Director General of the European Space Agency, and former head of the German Space Agency, is a passionate advocate for building a “lunar village.”  In all probability, it just happens to fit. That does not mean it is without value, particularly if it strikes a chord.

 

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