Lots of attention is being given a mock advertisement made by a German film student for the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class's "smart" safety system. Why? The ad packs a powerful wallop of a counterfactual ending into its otherwise straightforward marketing pitch.
As the ad begins, a silver Mercedes sedan is shown rolling through the Austrian countryside. As it approaches two farm girls standing in the road outside of a village, its sensors prevent the vehicle from hitting them.
As it rolls on, however, it comes upon a young boy -- shown in a flash-forward scene and in his mother's anguished cry "Adolf!" -- to be the future Nazi dictator. The car then runs him over, with the punch line (in German) reading:
"Detects dangers before they come up."
Tobias Haase, Jan Mettler, Lydia Lohse and Gun Adyemir, the creators of the mock ad (which has been repudiated by Mercedes), explained the rationale in hypothetical (but not counterfactual) terms: "We wanted to pose the question of what might happen if technology had a soul."
Of course, the ad's resonance comes from its tapping into the time-honored fantasy of killing Hitler before he could foment mayhem the world over. There's no need to survey all the famous works of alternate history that have explored this scenario. (If you're interested, see my book, The World Hitler Never Made, chapter 6).
But to my knowledge, the scenario's appeal has never before been used (so cleverly) for the purpose of marketing a commodity. It's worth speculating whether the ad will be perceived as humorous (after, all the premise has almost been played out into a cliché) or serious in its message. But either way, it represents an innovative application of "what if?" thinking.
For the record, the image of young Hitler's corpse contorted into the shape of a human swastika is particularly imaginative.