Volkswagen has apologized and removed a "racist" ad from its German social media accounts after it faced criticism online. The 10-second ad, which was part of a series meant to depict a love story between a dark-skinned man and a white woman, was to promote the VW Golf 8 and was initially broadcast on German automaker's Instagram and Facebook.
In the ad, a black man dressed in a suit is seen being pushed around and maneuvered like a marionette by a large pair of white hands while cartoon-like sound effects, a woman's laughter, and upbeat music played in the background. In one part of the ad, the man is pushed away from a parked VW Golf and flicked into a café called "Petit Colon," which translates from French and German to "little settler" or "little colonist" in English. As some social media users pointed out, as the German slogan "Der Neue Golf," which translates to "The New Golf," fades in, the first letters to appear spell out "neger," which can be used as the German equivalent of the n-word.
Although the ad was meant to "mimic videos put up on social media where one person appears to be controlling another like a puppet," according to the BBC, it quickly sparked an outcry. On social media, viewers condemned it as "racist garbage" and said that they would no longer be purchasing Volkswagen vehicles. In response to the backlash, the company initially said that they were "surprised and shocked that our Instagram story could be so misunderstood," though they later issued an extended a longer apology titled "Apology for racist advertising video," in which they admitted that the ad was "racist."
In the statement, VW brand board member Jurgen Stackmann and group head of diversity Elke Heitmuller said, "we understand the public outrage at this because we're horrified too" and said called the ad "an insult to every decent person." They also apologized "in particular to those who feel personally hurt by the racist content," according to CNBC. They added that they would "make the results and consequences of the investigation public." Stackmann and Heitmuller also acknowledged VW's history of employing forced labor during the Nazi regime, stating, "We at Volkswagen are aware of the historical origins and the guilt of our company during the Nazi regime." They said that the company "resolutely oppose all forms of hatred, slander/propaganda and discrimination."
The controversy follows several others that the company has faced in recent years. In 2013, Volkswagen faced backlash for a Superbowl ad showing a white man from Minnesota speaking with a Jamaican accent as he encouraged his colleagues to take a more relaxed approach to life. In 2019, CEO Herbert Diess apologized after using the expression "Ebit macht frei," or, "Ebit sets you free." While "Ebit" is short for earnings before interest, the phrase sounds similar to "Arbeit macht frei," a Nazi slogan that was placed on entrances to multiple German concentration camps, according to CNN Business.