VW pulls Instagram post derided for racial overtones
Volkswagen has withdrawn an Instagram snippet meant to promote the latest Golf model after social media users criticized the video clip for using potentially discriminating motifs.
The snippet showed a man with dark skin moved around like a marionette by a large white hand before being snipped into the entrance of the Petit Colon cafe in Buenos Aires. The cafe is next to the popular Teatro Colon named after Italian explorer and colonist Christopher Columbus.
Some social-media users suggested that floating letters in the video clip briefly spelled a pejorative German word for people of color.
Felix Edeha, who on Twitter identifies himself as a Berlin-based journalist, was among those who captured the video (shown below) before it was deleted. His tweet, translated from German to English, states: “In the new # VW advertisement, a black man is pushed back and forth by a white hand and then snapped into a house with the heading ‘petit colon.’ The first letters to appear result in the N word.”
In a statement, Volkswagen apologized: “Without question: the video is wrong and tasteless,” the company said. “We will clarify how this could happen—and take consequences from this.”
A Volkswagen spokesman confirmed to Ad Age that the Golf 8 campaign comes from the automaker’s German headquarters. Asked about agency involvement in the Instagram post, he said: “Agencies are generally involved in the creation and production process of campaigns. We are currently investigating where the mistake happened and will make that public afterwards.”
Representatives for Johannes Leonardo, which handles VW in the U.S., told Ad Age that they were not involved.
The VW spokesman referenced statements made on social media from Jürgen Stackmann, a brand board member overseeing sales and marketing; and Elke Heitmüller, VW’s head of diversity management of Volkswagen Group. Those statements, in part, read that “we understand the public outrage at this. Because we’re horrified, too. This video is an insult to all achievements of the civil rights movement.” They further added 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.”
VW has stepped up diversity and integrity efforts since the manufacturer’s diesel-emissions manipulation came to light five years ago, which included controversial testing involving monkeys exposed to exhaust fumes.
Last year, VW CEO Herbert Diess apologized for using a phrase that appeared to play on a slogan with right-wing connotations.
“I feel ashamed for this spot—and for sure I speak for the whole workforce here,” VW labor leader and supervisory board member Bernd Osterloh said Wednesday. The incident must be “cleared up thoroughly” and workers insist that the responsibility for it doesn’t just get passed down the corporate ladder by VW’s top management, he said.
VW said it opposes any form of racism, xenophobia and discrimination, especially against the backdrop of its own corporate history. VW was founded in 1937 during the Nazi era.
This story was updated with new comments from the automaker about agency involvement.
—Bloomberg News with contributions from Ad Age reporter E.J. Schultz