DNA Schmee-N-A


3 June 2019

“Mohammed Ali did not invent the knock-out punch. Elvis did not invent rock ’n’ roll. Amelia Earhart did not invent aviation. And we did not invent the electric car. We did something radically different. We injected it with the Audi DNA.”

These lines introduce Audi’s advertising campaign for its new electric car. On screen, historical and contemporary footage flashes past: Ali, Elvis, Earhart, some Audi cars. Then boom: a double helix with one of its nucleotides adorned with the Audi logo. It is the most literal representation of the concept of “brand DNA” that I’ve come across, and I’ve come across quite a few in my years as a design journalist.

A quick search for “DNA” in my work inbox brings up the following statements: “Tom Dixon is an extraordinary luxury lifestyle brand with a highly distinctive DNA”; “An intimate and engaging relationship with the art world has always been intrinsic to Marni’s DNA”; “Fendi seemed like the perfect partner, given their DNA.” What to make of this tendency? Is it simply interchangeable with “brand identity”? I’m not sure. Talk of “brand DNA” seems to want to establish something more concrete; something scientifically measurable; something definitely, essentially and recognisably there, independent of the turnaround of creative directors and designers. But is the “there” not mostly hot air in the world of PR and marketing?

The physical infrastructure – materials, craftspersons and production facilities – could perhaps be considered the concrete stuff of a brand. But, by and large, even the oldest so-called heritage brands have outsourced and scattered these across the globe. I have yet to receive a press release boasting that “Offshoring to maximise profit is in our DNA.”

Audi, part of the Volkswagen Group (of diesel-emissions-rigging notoriety), is a global company: today, its cars are made not only in Germany, but also Slovakia, Hungary, Brazil and China. Its gene pool is wide, to say the least. Whatever has been “injected” into its new electric car, it is likely to be as nebulous as a puff of exhaust from an Audi TT.