The link led me to a blog by Danny Brown, which outlined the PR nightmare Audi may be about to enter with its Super Bowl ad campaign.
Audi is reportedly using its Super Bowl airtime to advertise its "A3 TDI diesel, which gets 42 mpg highway," and is priming the pump for the ad with a series of YouTube videos like this one, introducing the "Green Police."
"The campaign is based around a new creation called the Green Police, who will spearhead a social media program to build interest in Audi’s ad at this year’s football showcase. The Green Police enforce ways to protect the environment, and encourage people to a better understanding of environmental issues. There’s currently a series of YouTube mock education videos as part of the program, as well as a Green Police Twitter account.
The problem is, there’s already been a Green Police enforcement organization, but not one that you’d want to be associated with. This Green Police was part of the Nazi persecution and execution of millions of Jews in the Holocaust of the Second World War.
The implications of Audi’s choice of name for their campaign could be huge, especially since Audi is a German company. The first question is obvious – didn’t anyone at Audi’s PR or advertising arm/agency do any research?"
Since that blog post was first published yesterday, it has received more than 100 comments and has been tweeted more than 275 times (including a re-tweet by me, with the introductory note "Really?"). A debate has grown up around whether this actually constitutes a major issue, as Brown suggests, or whether it's not really a big deal.
- The Nazi "Green Police" were commonly called that because they wore green uniforms; it wasn't their actual name
- Many people are unaware of a link between the name "Green Police" and the Holocaust
- A number of environmental groups internationally call themselves "Green Police," including, according to answers.com, a task force comprised of law enforcement groups "assembled to crack down on emissions in large US metropolitan cities"
- The enforcement officers of Israel's own Ministry of Environmental Protection, according to one commenter on Brown's blog, are called "Green Police".
Even if you don't personally think so, from a PR strategy perspective, it doesn't matter. As soon as someone takes reasonable exception to anything an organization does (and especially if that someone has an audience), you've got a potential issue on your hands.
Can you always predict what will offend people? Of course not.
Audi's "Green Police" message was supposed to be about environmental stewardship (and, ultimately, the A3 TDI diesel); now, at least in some corners, the public discussion it has inspired is about the company's either disregard for or ignorance of the dark history attached to its new campaign's name.