A couple of Volkswagen bigwigs say they’re baffled by how an inflammatory ad for their Golf 8 made it onto their Instagram and Facebook pages. It was removed Tuesday, and now the executives are doing what many others do in these situations: Saying they’re shocked, hurt, and plan to fully investigate.
The ad shows a large hand of a white person pushing away a dark-skinned man from a vehicle, another lifting him up, then the first plucking him into a cafe in Buenos Aires, Argentina, called Petit Colon, French translation for the Little Colonist or Little Settler. The cafe in the Spanish-speaking South American country’s largest city is in the same district as the Teatro Colon, a theater named for Christopher Columbus.
The BBC reports that the ad “was one in a series which was supposed to depict a love story between a dark-skinned man and a white woman.”
Earlier ads depicted vignettes such as the woman putting an envelope on the windshield of the car to try to fool the man into think he’d gotten a ticket, when the letter actually was from her.
Volkswagen’s higher-ups are now saying they’re not surprised by the public backlash, but initially they expressed bewilderment at anyone taking offense.
When criticism of the offending ad began, Volkswagen took to Instagram to say the ethnicities of the people shown are irrelevant, and it was “surprised and shocked that our Instagram story could be so misunderstood.”
The company would change its tone quickly.
“We posted a racist advertising video on Volkswagen’s Instagram channel,” Jürgen Stackmann, the company’s head of sales and marketing and Elke Heitmülle in charge of diversity, said this week in a post to social media.
“We understand the public outrage at this, because we’re horrified, too. On behalf of Volkswagen AG, we apologize to the public at large for this film. And we apologize in particular to those who feel personally hurt by the racist content because of their own history,” continued the message.
Stackmann sent a separate message on Twitter and wrote, “I sincerely apologize as an individual in my capacity as a board member at Volkswagen Sales & Marketing. Hatred, racism and discrimination have no place at Volkswagen! In this case, I will personally ensure full transparency and consequences!”
Volkswagen started in 1937 during the Nazi regime, and its first Mass-produced cars were built by concentration camp labor. The Independent reports that, with almost 11 million vehicles delivered in 2019, it’s the biggest automobile maker in the world. It also sells vehicles under the brands Audi, Porsche, Skoda, and Seat.
There were a number of people who said they wouldn’t take Volkswagen’s apology, and the ad getting past so many people shows a lack of diversity in the company
“Anyone involved should be fired immediately, as they obviously lack any common sense or cultural awareness,” one person tweeted.
“Okay… but who signed off on this Ad?” another asked on Instagram. “🤔 its way too late to apologize. “Yall need to add some diversity to your marketing department or whoever the f–k signs off on this s–t. Its a stupid a-s advertisement anyways.”
There were others, seemingly not Black, who considered it just fine to tell Black people the ad wasn’t racist, and they shouldn’t be offended.
“Tbh I literally couldn’t care less it was literally just an ad why not just view it as someone pushes someone else out of the way instead of making it a point that the two are of different races,” one tweeted.