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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522Comments
Jan 30, 2013 4:26PM
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Sounds to me like an advertising ploy on behalf of VW to get more people to watch and take notice of their new ad.
Jan 30, 2013 4:24PM
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Our DRAMA MEDIA At Work!!! GET A LIFE AH-le!!!!   A bunch of OVER PAID SH-T HEADS!!
Jan 30, 2013 4:23PM
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Folks need to stop getting all butt hurt over made up affronts. It has gotten so bad that people search for any and everything and then dissect it until they can find the flimsiest of reasons to whine about something that has absolutely no merit. In which way is this racist???? Is it racist if you talk with a southern drawl??? An English accent?? Although I am not 100% sure of the demographics of Jamaica I would still have wonder why this is considered racist.
Jan 30, 2013 4:23PM
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Huh? What? How in the hell can this be deemed as racist??? Its message is "drive a VW and it will make you a happier person"! Unbelievable what some people will do to cause conflict.  Must have been started by a competitor is my guess!!
Jan 30, 2013 4:22PM
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I think this is more funny than offensive.

Now the ghetto hamsters from the Kia Soul commercials...I find those offensive as I find ANYONE who wears their pants with the waistband on their **** instead of their waist ;)

Jan 30, 2013 4:21PM
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How about everyone shred their race cards and get on with acting like educated, civilized beings?  It is unfortunate that we still cannot get past the color of a person's skin.  How about seeing an artist as an artist, an athlete as an athlete, or a politician as a politician?  Instead of skin color, how about we see their value as a human?  Get over it, and get over yourselves.  And the US thinks itself an advanced culture...I think not.
Jan 30, 2013 4:21PM
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I can think of other things that are racist. Have you ever seen a cadilac ad....

 

Jan 30, 2013 4:20PM
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Sooooooo tired of people, i.e. the media, wanting to stir up a storm. It's a cute commercial, made me laugh. Why can't someone use a different accent than you would expect? If he had used a french accent, would he be prejudiced? No. Everything isn't always about black or white. Get over yourselves.
Jan 30, 2013 4:19PM
Jan 30, 2013 4:19PM
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It's soooo not racist. I thought it was funny...made me smile. Stop looking from problems where there are none. Keep the commercial.
Jan 30, 2013 4:19PM
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YAAAWN!  Gee another claim of racism.  What if this guy had a german accent, would the Jews be up in arms becuase it sounded too much like Hitler and an Italian accent, then he would be accused of being a Moussolini supporter?  What, are there no white people in Jamaica?   I'm thinking back now and am offended by Carlton Banks talking white while his poor Philly cousin was all hooded up.  WTH!
Jan 30, 2013 4:19PM
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This "racist" stuff has gotten out of hand, if people would only become a little more thick skinned! I feel there are a lot more "serious" things we should be worrying about!  I hate racism and everything to do with it, however by obliging this kind of NONSENSE we are enabling every idiot out there to find a racial tone in just about anything. Get over it and worry about the true problems with society, not whether or not someone's feeling get hurt of this kind of crap!
Jan 30, 2013 4:19PM
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The commercial is dumb, not racist, just dumb.
Jan 30, 2013 4:18PM
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People need to RELAX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jan 30, 2013 4:17PM
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Creative and awesome ad. Love it. The Jamaican Beetle takes over the Wolfsburg style.
Jan 30, 2013 4:17PM
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So what you are telling us that none of us should have any form of accent, because it means what>>>>> dude this is not racist at all, the guy is handsome, well dressed, a professional, nice guy,  trying to make people smile.
Jan 30, 2013 4:16PM
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So...some are offended because VW is portraying Jamaicans as happy, carefree people.   Oh, the horror.
Jan 30, 2013 4:16PM
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There is nothing racist about this ad it's very funny. Come on fellow Americans it's 2013.

 

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