Video: Is the VW Super Bowl Ad ‘Blackface With Voices’

By Luke Visconti


Ordinarily, I wouldn’t bother writing about Super Bowl ads,but there’s one coming up this Sunday from Volkswagen that is a good “teachable moment.”The Volkswagen ad in question features a white guy (we learn in the ad that he is from Minnesota) who speaks in what sounds to me like a mashup Rastafarian/Jamaican accent and who is inanely happy.

The controversy over this ad is not a small matter:In the CNN roundtable discussion below, Jamaican-born Wall Street Journal columnist Christopher John Farley objects strongly to the commercial, and New York Times columnist Charles Blow calls it “Blackface with voices.”

The Internet is replete with white people opining that this ad isn’t racist, but there’s another Volkswagen ad that I find more troubling. It features aPied Piper-singing guy who is the only featured Black person in the adand he’s dressed like a street person. It backs up my sense of the chief marketing officer and the ad agency being completely out of touch.

In my opinion, Volkswagen’s Super Bowl commercial is more creepy than racist in the sense that it’s troubling that a big car company can do something which appears to me to be so 20 years ago. This isn’t a mistake by a local business putting an ad in the Pennysaver; a 30-second ad in this year’s Super Bowl costs an average of $3.8 million.

When I first saw the ad, I thought it must have come from the minds of middle-aged white people who don’t get out muchand sure enough, the interview with Tim Mahoney, Volkswagen’s CMO, shows him to be a roughly 50-year-old,goatee-wearing white (American) man.The ad agency is Deutsch; here’s an article that has interviews with the agency people who did this. Not a nonwhite face in sight. No women in any position of authority were interviewed on the set of the commercial shoot (see the video). Here’s the agency’s leadership all apparently white. I could not find a nonwhite face on the company’s website. Deutsch is owned by IPG. IPG’s senior management: five apparently white men and one white woman.

Deutsch and IPG are headquartered in New York City, which is33.3% non-Hispanic white. There are almost 700,000 descendants of Caribbean immigrants. There’s simply no excuse for being out of touchor having that little diversity.

The bottom line is that I don’t think the publicity is a “win” for Volkswagen. Our country is rapidly becoming more diverse, with more nonwhite births than white births for the first time in our history. The diversity of our country increases as age decreases, and that’s producing more new family units that are diverse. The end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the growing number of states with legalized same-gender marriage rights increase that here-and-now diversity. And let’s include the millions of veterans returning from combat zones of the past decade in that mix; they are accelerating the issue of inclusion for people with disabilities.

How this plays out for corporate communications can be seen in the last presidential election: Despite spending more than $1 billion, Governor Romney’s largest demographic was people over 65 years old, and 88 percent of the people who voted for him were white. President Obama’s largest demographic was 18-to-26-year-olds, and 56 percent of the people who voted for the president were white. If you were selling cars, which demographic would you prefer If you were on Volkswagen’s board of directors, how could you be pleased with this foolish, out-of-touch ad that is clearly upsetting many people What does it say about your marketing department Or your ad agency

Other articles I think are worth reading include “Volkswagen teases Super Bowl ad, explains why it doesn’t star Jar Jar Binks” from Entertainment Weeklyand ‘It’s like blackface with voices’from London’s Daily Mailthat uses Charles Blow’s “Blackface with voices” line.

I think it’s always been true that you are more likely to make a bad decision with a homogeneous group.In our multicultural countryin our hyperconnected worldyour bad decision will reach millions far more quickly. Further, nonmajority people feel more empowered than ever, and more white families have taken on diversity internally through marriage, adoption and awareness of LGBT relatives.

Volkswagen, you can do better than this.

Latest News

Diverse hads unite

More Work Needed For Corporate Diversity Programs; Fourteen Disability Groups Unite to Promote Voting; and More

Corporate diversity efforts still have a long way to go, new report finds. In a report conducted by the research firm Clutch, nearly half of employees surveyed said their company isn’t committed to creating a more diverse workplace and hasn’t successfully improved diversity within the last year. Researchers with Clutch…

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco Declares War on Racism; People 55 and Older Face Historic Levels of Unemployment; and More.

San Francisco begins a citywide war on racism and discrimination. Known as the birthplace of the “Summer of Love” and the counterculture movement of the 1960s, San Francisco has long stood as a bastion of individuality and inclusion. And now the city is continuing that fight with the launch of…

portrait of Abraham Lincoln

Was Abraham Lincoln a Racist?

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s mention of Abraham Lincoln’s name during the third presidential debate on Thursday, Oct. 22, was one of the most memorable exchanges in the final presidential debate of 2020. It also caused Lincoln to become a trending topic over much of social media in the hours…

BASF receives “CIIF New Materials Award”

Originally published on BASF.com Novel modification of BASF’s PolyTHF for various applications First successful application for soft spandex fibers with Banglian BASF has received the 2020 “CIIF New Materials Award” focusing on innovation and granted by the China International Industry Fair (CIIF) in September, 2020 at the National Exhibition and…

Humana

Humana, Quantified Ventures, and Volunteers of America Partner to Establish First of Its Kind Health Outcomes Fund

Originally published on Humana.com  The new fund will help Volunteers of America sustainably scale Family Focused Recovery program operations to provide comprehensive services to mothers with substance use disorder and their children Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) today re-confirms its commitment to provide innovative models of care for families through a…

AOC celebrates a victory in Among Us during her Twitch stream

AOC Livestreamed ‘Among Us’ on Twitch to Encourage Everyone (but Particularly Young People) to Vote

New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) is stepping up Democratic efforts to make sure young voters are prepared when heading to the polls on Election Day, especially in light of COVID-19. On Oct. 21, 2020, AOC livestreamed on Twitch to engage with the younger demographic that frequents the video game-centric…

Black Lives Matter face mask for preventing spread of COVID-19

BLM T-shirts and Trump Masks Cause Uproar at Early Polling Locations; New Credit Cards Allow Trans Individuals to Use Preferred Name; and More

BLM T-shirts and Trump masks cause uproar at early polling locations. Voters’ choice of clothing when heading to the polls in Florida and Tennessee has begun making headlines across the country. The Washington Post reported that Miami police officer Daniel Ubeda has come under fire for wearing a Trump-endorsing face…

Enjoy Chic Comfort at the Newly Opened Hilton Mall of Istanbul

Originally published on Hilton.com Hilton Mall of Istanbul, located within Turkey’s largest shopping and entertainment center, offers 175 guest rooms including 14 suites, extensive conference facilities and easy access from the new Istanbul Airport Today Hilton Mall of Istanbul opens its doors to guests. The world-class 175-room hotel, located within the same…