The film, created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, shows a close-up of a driver’s eye, with the pupil dilating and reflecting the street lights of the nighttime road scene ahead of the car. This cuts to a slow-mo shot of an R8 driving through a tunnel, before a final shot of the car outside, braking suddenly to a halt.
One complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority said the ad appeared to connect speed and excitement, and was therefore irresponsible.
Volkswagen Group UK, Audi's manufacturer, disputed this, saying the message was intended to be that the R8 offered an especially focused drive, thanks to various features designed to improve performance, such as the car’s carbon-ceramic brakes and seven-speed S-Tronic gearbox.
The car maker said the entire ad had been shot with the cars travelling at under 30 miles per hour – to avoid giving the impression of speed – and that it had also replaced the sound of the engine where it would have been at its loudest with music.
VW also said that the dilating pupil was meant to convey focus and concentration, which it said was a documented scientific phenomenon. It said the eye had been produced with CGI and was clearly fantastical because no real eye would dilate in such a way.
Supporting Audi, Clearcast added that the power and handling of the car were shown in a context of safety: the safer and more effective ceramic brakes.
But the ASA rejected all of Audi’s points. The watchdog said that while the car may have been filmed driving slowly, the presentation gave the impression of speed and acceleration, thanks to the dim visuals and clearly audible upward gear changes.
It also said that although a good braking system was a vital feature of car safety, demonstrating that such a system was installed was not necessarily an example of a clear context of safety.
And it also determined that viewers were likely to interpret the dilating pupils not as representing focus and concentration, but as a positive emotional response. Although the fluctuations in the pupil may not be a realistic portrayal of the eye, said the ASA, they represent a real physiological change.
As a result, the watchdog ruled that the ad breached the Code on both social responsibility and rules for motoring ads, and told Audi it must not be shown again in the current form.