German automaker Volkswagen found itself in hot water this week after an advertisement with racist overtones garnered online backlash. The company has since pulled the ad and apologized for its content.
The controversial ad, which was posted to Instagram and Twitter, depicts a giant white hand pushing a black man away from a parked Volkswagen Golf. The hand then flicks the man through the open doorway of a cafe whose sign reads “Petit Colon,” German for “Little Colonist.” Comedic sound effects, upbeat music and a woman’s laughter play over the entire scene.
The off-putting commercial reaches its offensive climax as the name of the car model appears on screen. “Der Neue Golf,” which means “The New Golf,” gradually appears letter-by-letter. The trouble is, the first few letters of “Der Neue Golf” spell-out an anti-black racial slur in the German language, tantamount to the American N-word.
With Volkswagen’s dark history of serving the Nazi regime during World War II, neither the tone nor the optics of the bizarre ad sat well with viewers, who decried its poor taste across the internet.
Initially, Volkswagen responded to the social media uproar by saying, “We are surprised and shocked that our Instagram story could be so misunderstood.” But it didn’t take long for the automaker to remove the ad and release a statement of remorse.
“We can understand the outrage and anger,” Volkswagen told the Associated Press. “We fully understand the disgust and anger in response to the video. It is quite clear that this video is wrong and distasteful. We firmly distance ourselves from the video and apologize sincerely.”
The German company also promised to review how this ad was approved in the first place and committed to stronger oversight in the marketing department in order to prevent such carelessness in the future.
Not The First Controversy
Just last year, Volkswagen CEO, Herbert Diess was criticized for trying to encourage higher profits by using the slogan “EBIT macht frei” in a corporate speech. The phrase was a play on words for the old Nazi mantra “Arbeit macht frei,” which means “work sets you free,” an ominous epigraph that infamously decorated the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Diess showed great remorse over those comments saying they were an “an unfortunate choice of words” meant to refer to the strong financial health that gives the company more creative freedom. He acknowledged it was an especially distasteful mix-up given the company’s entangled history with the Nazi Party.
Still, judging from the ferocity of the backlash triggered by the New Golf ad, it looks like the public continues to hold Volkswagen responsible for its lack of racial sensitivity.