Gavin Green on the new Audi ad and engineering

Published: 15 February 2011

Brunel! Thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: engine, lathe and pen.

(With apologies to William Wordsworth.)

It’d be easy to write a good blog about bad car advertising. There are so many culprits. But a recent ad from Audi – whose campaigns are normally stand-out impressive – has finally stirred me to put vexed finger to computer key.

‘Imagination meets engineering’ is the slogan used to promote the new Audi A7. Now the TV ad itself, done by a reputable London agency, has pleasing graphics and a catchy rework of a Basement Jaxx tune.

But that ad slogan! ‘Imagination meets engineering’ clearly implies that engineering is imagination-free, a dull stolid vocation for stoic nerds who impassively grind away in their laboratories while the ‘imagination’ clearly comes from other more enlightened areas of the car industry (Designers? Finance department? The ad agency? The copywriters are a little unclear on this point.) 

Engineer: Now more boilerman than Brunel in Britain

For me, it sums up the debased reputation that engineering now has in this country, as evinced by the prejudices of the Audi UK copywriter. In Britain, engineering is a middling profession, equivalent to mechanic or repairman. This is why we have ‘heating engineers’ (plumbers), ‘mechanical engineers’ (mechanics) and ‘environmental engineers’ (blokes who fix drains). An engineer is nowadays more boilerman than Brunel.

The belittling of the reputation of our engineers is a key reason why we have ceased to be a manufacturing and engineering powerhouse. It’s why our bright kids want to bankers and artists, not engineers and scientists. It’s why they’d rather be the new Saatchi than the next Stephenson. It’s why our motor industry is run by foreigners. It’s why so many ‘British’ cars (Rolls-Royces, Minis plus UK-built Vauxhalls, Hondas and Toyotas) are engineered and conceived in Germany or Japan. We simply ‘make’ them.

In Germany, an engineer is a noble profession

In Germany, Japan, Italy and America, an engineer is a hallowed profession. That’s increasingly true in China and India too. The great advances in motoring have all come from engineers, the thinking men (and women) of the automotive industry. They rarely come from what we today call ‘designers’. (And they even more seldom come from ad copywriters.) Great engineers have big brains, tremendous technological knowledge and – yes – fantastic imaginations. They also invariably make the best car bosses.

In fact there is a very succinct expression that sums up the importance of engineering. Progress through technology.  Or, in German, ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’.

Guess which car company came up with that?

By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience