Send in the clowns - The Audi commercial

Send in the clowns

We travel to Prague and witness some high jinx
on the set of Audi’s latest television commercial

There are clowns everywhere: walking down the street, waiting for buses, having arguments, driving cars and even floating up into the air holding on to a giant bunch of balloons!

No, it’s not a new immersive circus concept, but the latest Audi television commercial, in which badly behaved clowns run amok in the city. The loud, mad, messy world seems a long way from the usual understated cool-and-controlled image of the German car manufacturer. We travelled to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, to go behind the scenes on the shoot to find out more.

‘We like to keep things simple with Audi – there are a lot of clowns on the road, and our cars have the technology needed to stay safe amongst them,’ explains Ian Heartfield, Creative Director at advertising agency BBH, whose team dreamed up the original concept for the advert. ‘In the ad, we see a series of different Audi models using state-of-the-art technology such as Pre Sense and Brake and Lane Assist to deal with dangerous road users, who we chose to represent as clowns.’

The Audi Q2 on set

Director Ringan Ledwidge on set

The Clowns on set

BBH has a long history with Audi and was the agency responsible for propagating the brand’s slogan ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ back in the 1980s. Since then, it has continually strived to find a number of new and original ways to promote Audi innovations, notably creating memorable adverts such as the A5 Ugly Duckling, RS3 Birth and RS5 Coupé Nothing to Prove.

For the latest project, the agency has handed over the reins of the operation to acclaimed director Ringan Ledwidge. The Londoner has a long record of creating blockbuster-style commercials and was responsible for last year’s immensely successful Duel advert for the RS7

‘The biggest challenge in this project is to get the tone right,’ he explains, revealing the thought process behind his creative decisions. ‘I don’t want the clowns to be cheesy – they need to feel modern so it’s clear that they and the Audis are part of the same universe. I haven’t done a project using clowns before – they can be scary and I don’t want that. They can also feel cheap or veer into Ronald McDonald territory, and I don’t want that either. So, casting clowns who feel cinematic and relevant was really important, and playing around with their costumes and make-up has been great fun.’

Storyboarding the Audi Clown commercial

A clown mechanic on the set

Filing on set of the Audi Clown commercial

To achieve this, inspiration and visual references were taken from the likes of silent-film legend Buster Keaton and the godfather of Hollywood thrillers, Michael Mann. These two may at first seem unlikely bedfellows when it comes to influence, but Ringan explains that his aim was to create something unique.

To achieve a similar cinematic feel to the streets of Los Angeles where Michael Mann shoots, the production team opted for Prague. As well as gothic architecture and a medieval old town, the city has a wealth of bleak post-industrial sites and monochromatic modern developments that mimic downtown LA. The Czech Republic also has a vibrant film industry – and a fervent love of clowns, to boot. Indeed, the Prague Academy of Performing Arts is known as one of the best clowning schools in the world, meaning the director could be certain he wouldn’t be left with pie on his face.


Words by John Silcox. Photographs by Richard Pardon.


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