Advertising is a tough gig, no matter what product you’re selling. You never know if that tagline or headline you come up with is going to be a home run or a complete foul. And if you’re in charge of coming up with the storyline for a video ad, then there are a ton of pitfalls to watch out for. Ultimately, once the ad is done and spread out to the masses, you have to cross your fingers and hope that it’s a hit and, more importantly, that it doesn’t offend anyone. Such was the case for Volkswagen with its recent ad for the Golf, however, they fell into the latter category once the ad was posted.
It all started with a flick
The ad that received backlash was originally posted on Volkswagen’s German Instagram and Facebook page. The ad shows large white hands picking up and pushing an African man away from a new, yellow Volkswagen Golf. The kicker is that after the hands push and prod the man away from the car, one of them flicks the man into a restaurant named “Petit Colon,” which is the French translation for “Little Colonist” or “Little Settler.”
As if the flick wasn’t enough, words fade in on the screen shortly after reading “Der Neue Golf,” which translates to “The New Golf” in German. That doesn’t sound that bad, but the letters in that tagline that first appear spell out the word “neger,” which is the German equivalent for the n-word and is, at the very least, a pejorative statement.
A day or so after, angry social media users let their thoughts be known on the company’s social media outlets, to which Volkswagen responded that it was “surprised and shocked that our Instagram story could be so misunderstood.”
Now, we definitely understand that the human mind can put pieces together and come out with a completely different puzzle than initially intended, but if you look at the ad, it makes sense why Volkswagen was called out for it:
The inevitable apology
While Volkswagen did release that initial statement about the ad being misunderstood, they never really backed up what the intention was behind it in order to explain their actions. Instead, a couple of days later, they released an apology.
Volkswagen’s head of sales and marketing, Jürgen Stackmann, and the group head of diversity, Elke Heitmüller, stated on social media: We posted a racist video on Volkswagen’s Instagram channel. We understand the public outrage at this. Because we are horrified too. On behalf of Volkswagen AG, we apologize to the public at large for this film. And we apologize to those in particular to those who feel personally hurt by the racist content because of their own history.”
They summed it up stating, “We’re ashamed of it and cannot explain how it came about. All the more reason for us to make sure that we clear this up. And we will make the results and consequences of the investigation public.”
Are they digging an even bigger hole?
While we can all accept Volkswagen’s apology for the ad, they shouldn’t be surprised that the whole world is shaking its head wondering if they’re constantly trying to dig a bigger hole for themselves. During the backlash from the ad, the public was quick to tie in the brand’s roots to Nazi Germany, however, it doesn’t take a shady past to decipher an ad that possibly displays racism, no matter what company it’s from. Volkswagen’s past, including the infamous “dieselgate” scandal, doesn’t help their position, though.
Either way, it’s good that they acknowledged their actions and apologized. We just hope that Volkswagen kindly accepts an apology from the people that actually came up with the idea for the ad, although, they might not get off so easily.