Is Volkswagen's Super Bowl ad racist?

The big game's first advertising controversy has arrived, and it involves former ad darling VW.

By Aimee Picchi Jan 30, 2013 1:45PM

This year's Super Bowl has revealed its first advertising controversy: a commercial from Volkswagen (VLKAY) that's coming under fire as racist.


The commercial features a white Minnesotan who suddenly starts speaking in a Jamaican accent, urging his dour co-workers to "Turn the frown the other way around." (To see the ad, click here.) The punch line? His happiness stems from his ride: a VW Beetle.

Some are finding the ad offensive, with New York Times columnist Charles Blow telling CNN, "It's like blackface with voices." Another CNN commentator said the spot reminded him of Jar Jar Binks, the maligned "Star Wars" character who was criticized as reflecting some racial stereotypes. 


The stakes are high, with this year's commercial time selling for a record $3.8 million. That means some marketers are willing to take risks in order to grab viewers' attention. After all, the game's advertisers represent a who's who of America's top brands, including M&Ms, Coca-Cola (KO) and Ford (F).Image: Watching television ( Corbis)


That the controversy involves VW underscores how even top marketers can slip up when it comes to Super Bowl advertising. The automaker created one of 2011's most beloved Super Bowl ads,"The Force," in which a boy dressed up as Darth Vader tries to use his "force" to move sandwiches, toys and laundry. (To see that ad, click here.)


VW is standing by its Jamaican accent, with chief marketing officer Tim Mahoney noting, "there is no thought to pulling it," according to USA Today


The automaker talked with 100 Jamaicans and used a speech coach to make sure the white actor in this year's spot accurately reflected the accent, Mahoney told CNN.


Super Bowl ads that go awry often have a common theme: they backfire when the marketer tries to shock or takes on polarizing issues. And, as VW has found, humor can miss the mark with some viewers.


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521Comments
Jan 30, 2013 3:01PM
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I seen another MSN article/video today on old 70's and 80's superbowl commercials and they said they were racist.  The young idiots at MSN see a foreigner in a commercial skit and they assume it's racist.  They are too young to know that what they are seeing is perhaps a display of America's history and even complimentary. For example.  The commercial that they said was racist was about a man who asked his wife why she can't get his shirts clean like the Chinese Laundry.  Then a Chinese woman says it's an old Chinese secret and she holds up a box of detergent.  Well, this is not racist.  The Chinese came to this country and established many laundry facilities and  were known for doing the best cleaning available.  They were proud to be business owners and provide a much needed service.  How the Jack A$$ that said this was racist dosen't see it was a compliment is beyond me.  Oh wait, this is what their liberal education teaches them.  We are so doomed, and our young are so stupid.  Do they honestly think these large companies would create a racist commercial?  Give me a break. They see these commercials like Obama sees America. Through poorly educated eyes.  Oh, And the commercial where an Indian has a tear in his eye after a car load of people throw trash out the window, that was racist too. (In their opinion). They didn't get it that an Indian loved the land, and we respect him for his values.  These MSN people and sociologist that teach this crap make me sick. 
Jan 30, 2013 3:00PM
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Racist? Only to racist !

Remember Madam Cleo ?  CALL ME NOW !<in a Jamacian accent>  This was her mantra.

Later, it was discovered she was from Texas.

Jan 30, 2013 2:58PM
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Who is the racist that is asking this stupid question ???  Wake up and move on you turkey !!!
Jan 30, 2013 2:56PM
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This ad in wack as hell. I do believe it is racist. There are other ways to show happiness besides acting like a Jamaican.. Thereis nothing funny about a abunch of grown businessmen in a small VW Bettle.

Jan 30, 2013 2:56PM
Jan 30, 2013 2:54PM
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Does anyone except professional racial chest beaters care?
Jan 30, 2013 2:54PM
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I can't say anything.  It was 2 years before I found out "Pokemon" wasn't a Jamaican proctologist.
Jan 30, 2013 2:52PM
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people go around jumping at the chance to use the word racist. Get over it!!!!!!

Jan 30, 2013 2:52PM
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There are white people who speak this way. Who's the racist?
Jan 30, 2013 2:51PM
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Any one that would call this comercial is a moron
Jan 30, 2013 2:46PM
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No it's not racist. This is a media-incited race war, simple distraction from the fact that the country is messed up with no fix in sight. I thought it was funny. I always find it funny when non-Jamaicans try to impersonate our accent. I've never found it to be racist UNLESS they stereotype (weed, Bob Marley, dreads, just to name a few).
Jan 30, 2013 2:37PM
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I don't think it's racist at all.  I don't actually like the ad but that's not the point.  VW wants people to believe that it's fun to drive a VW.  Even if I don't like the ad, if they get me to believe that maybe it would be fun to own a VW, then they have gotten their message across.
Jan 30, 2013 2:26PM
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People are looking to make a mountain out of a molehill, not a great ad but definitely not racist, kind of funny, but you know the Germans, oops, that may be racist also. Get a sense of humor everyone.
Jan 30, 2013 1:58PM
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The ad isn't racist - it's just lame.
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