It is a 10-second video promoting the new Golf 8 and published in the official profiles of the company on Facebook and Instragram.
Under the sounds of a cheerful soundtrack, mixed with female laughter and comedic sound effects, a large white woman’s hand pushes a black man and throws him into a Petit Colon coffee. The name of the restaurant can be translated as “Little Settler” or “Little Colonist”.
Observant users also note that the inscription Der neue Golf (“the new Golf”) appears gradually, as the letters become visible at various intervals and the German word “Neger” appears for a fraction of a second.
However, according to some, the advertisement is not so racist, but taken out of context.
The coffee from the video really exists in Buenos Aires, Argentina, near the Teatro Colón – a theater named after Christopher Columbus, notes the BBC. And the ad is part of a series filmed in the Argentine capital.
The series depicts a love story between a black man and a white woman. In one of the ads, for example, a woman puts an envelope on the windshield of a car to try to trick a man into saying there is a parking ticket, which is actually a letter from her.
Viewed as a whole story, the idea doesn’t seem so offensive, and VW’s initial reaction was that they were “surprised and shocked” by the reaction.
However, the criticism did not stop there and the video was downloaded, although after it was already published elsewhere on social media.
An official apology followed. It came from the head of sales and marketing and a member of the board of directors of Volkswagen, Jürgen Stackmann, and Elke Heitmüller, who is responsible for diversity in the company.
“We understand the public outrage about this. Because we are horrified too. On behalf of Volkswagen AG, we apologize to the general public for this video. And we apologize in particular to those who feel personally hurt by racist content because of their own history,” they wrote on Twitter and LinkedIn.
The two described the video as “an insult to every worthy person” and “all the achievements of the civil rights movement”.
“We are ashamed of this and cannot explain how it happened,” they said, promising that once they find out, the results and consequences will be made public.
A spokesman for Volkswagen said that agencies usually create their advertising campaigns. In any case, the case will lead to tighter controls and inspections in marketing.
The Volkswagen Group (VLKAF) also apologized in a separate statement, saying it “does not tolerate any form of racism, xenophobia or discrimination” in view of its own history. It is emphasized that the company has a number of internal schemes designed to promote diversity and impartial cooperation, so it is “even more disappointing that we made this mistake”.
The company was founded in 1937 during the Nazi regime. Today it is among the largest car manufacturers in the world, delivering nearly 11 million cars in 2019. The group produces cars under the brands Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda, Seat and Porsche.
But the company’s reputation has deteriorated over the past five years after it admitted to manipulating the test results of its diesel cars’ emissions.
In 2013, there was controversy in the United States after the company aired an ad for Superbowl with a white man from Minnesota, speaking with a Jamaican accent and urging his colleagues to be calmer in their approach to life.
In March last year, the CEO of the German concern Herbert Dies also had to apologize for using the term Ebit macht frei (Ebit frees you) during a managerial event. Ebit is a measure of the company’s profit, but the expression sounds similar to the Arbeit macht frei written on the gates of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
And in August 2019, a VW ad showing men having fun while a woman was sitting next to a pram was banned in the UK under anti-stereotyping rules.
In 2017, an advertisement equating women to used cars angered consumers in China and led to an apology from Audi. The ad was made by the used car division of the Volkswagen joint venture in China. It was also withdrawn.