Volkswagen Pulls 2021 Golf Ad, Apologizes for Racist Overtones
This was really not great, folks.
Today in the "how the hell did that happen?" file, Volkswagen is apologizing for a new advertisement that was so blatant in its racist overtones that it's hard to believe nobody raised a huge red flag before it was made public. The ad for the new 2021 Volkswagen Golf has been pulled from VW's social media accounts, but on the internet, everything lasts forever.
The now-scuttled short video is part of a series that follows a love story between a white woman and a dark-skinned man. The German-market ad depicts the man being pushed around and prodded by a giant hand (the woman's) while silly music plays. That all sounds innocent enough until you notice that the dark-skinned man is being abused by a gigantic white person, which is not a great look. And let’s not ignore the “OK” hand gesture, which is recognized as a symbol of white supremacy by anti-hate groups everywhere.
Making matters worse, as the ad comes to a close, German words appear on the screen that say “Der Neue Golf”, which means “The New Golf.” Again, innocent enough, right? Well, no, because as the characters begin to appear on the screen to create those words, the first letters that show up on screen spell out the German equivalent of an infamous racial slur.
The company’s response to the criticism was swift. After pulling the video down, Volkswagen’s head of diversity management, Elke Heitmueller and its board member for sales and marketing, Juergen Stackmann, both took to social media to issue an apology. “We understand the public outrage at this. Because we’re horrified, too,” they wrote, before acknowledging the company’s role in Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The statement continued on to say that “we at Volkswagen are aware of the historical origins and the guilt of our company during the Nazi regime. That is precisely why we resolutely oppose all forms of hatred, slander/propaganda and discrimination.”
A VW spokesperson said that advertising is usually handled by an outside agency, and noted that the company is investigating how and why the ad slipped through the cracks. It's reasonably safe to say that the agency just lost a very big client and more than a few people are likely out of work over the incident.
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