In an Audi commercial from China, a mother-in-law interrupts a wedding ceremony to inspect the bride, checking whether she's up to standard. The older woman grabs the bride's nose and ears, pinches her lower lip and peers at her teeth and tongue. The bride gets an OK -- along with an extra warning to cover up her cleavage.
It's an ad from Ogilvy & Mather Beijing promoting used Audis that have been checked out and officially certified for resale. "An important decision must be made carefully," the tagline says.
But the ad is getting pushback on social media for comparing women to merchandise -- specifically, to used cars that need to be checked from every angle. The ad was surprising given that Audi has made campaigns tackling gender stereotypes a centerpiece in markets from Spain to the U.S. One social commenter contrasted the Chinese spot to Audi's messaging during the Super Bowl, about equal pay for women.
"Audi in China regards women as secondhand cars," one commenter wrote on Weibo. "But Audi in the U.S. encourages women to believe in themselves, to realize their potential and to get the same pay as men." That commenter advised Audi to "think about its mistakes."
Audi didn't immediately respond to an email, and Ogilvy China declined to comment. The ad was one of several on the "know what you're getting" theme. In another spot, to be fair, it's a boyfriend who gets compared to a used car. That spot opens as a man on a beach starts to tell his girlfriend he loves her. She shushes him, puts him on a speed boat, races him through the jungle and brings him to a room where she hooks him up to a lie detector test to learn whether the "I love you" is for real.
Ogilvy and BBH China had been handling creative duties for FAW Audi, the German brand's joint venture in China, but the account recently moved to Leo Burnett Beijing, with another shop expected to join it. It's unclear whether the secondhand car offering is tied up with Audi's main business or uses its own agencies. Audi's sales dropped 12% in the first half of the year in China during a dispute with dealers.
On Chinese social media, there are regular flare-ups of outrage or praise about ad campaigns and their depiction of women, including when it comes to marriage. Women are under a lot of pressure to marry in China, where after a certain age they are considered "leftover women." Procter & Gamble skincare SK-II has had successive hit campaigns talking about that issue and encouraging women to find their own path and resist societal and family pressures.
Another campaign from a Chinese online dating site in 2014 used a tale about a dying grandma to shame young women for being "too picky" to find a husband. The backlash in that case was fierce.