Last week’s story about a Volkswagen social media ad containing racial overtones has now escalated into a full-blown investigation into apparent sabotage by the agency that created it.
As reported on B&T on Thursday, last week the German carmaker released a 10-second clip – in German – to Instagram promoting its new Golf (check out the offending spot below).
Among other things, the ad showed an oversized white woman’s hand picking up a black man and moving him around before flicking him into a building.
It apparently also showed fingers in the shape of a “white power” gesture and when the tagline “Der neue Golf” (or The new Golf) faded in such a way it appeared to spell out the N-word in German.
The spot was immediately labelled as racist and VW marketing execs were forced to pull the spot and issue a statement that read: “As you can imagine, we are surprised and shocked that our Instagram story could be so misunderstood.”
However, Volkswagen management has now launched a full investigation into the agency that made the ad, Berlin-based and Omnicom-owned creative agency Voltage, to determine if the ad was a deliberate act of sabotage.
Over the weekend, VW’s language changed from initial shock to “horror… at the racist advertising video” while Voltage said it had begun an internal investigation into what went so badly wrong with the ad.
Voltage is a subsidiary of DDB that works exclusively for Volkswagen. DDB is part of the Omnicom Group.
Voltage’s CEO Toby Pschorr said in a statement: “If there is any evidence that an employee or supplier deliberately conceived and planted racist or bigoted messages within our communication, it will lead to an immediate dismissal and legal repercussions.”
Pschorr, who also sits on DDB’s executive board and has worked with VW for eight years, said approval processes at the agency would be “scrutinised and re-evaluated to avoid something like this ever happening again”.
In a statement in German on Volkswagen’s website the company said: “We at Volkswagen are aware of the historical origins and the guilt of our company during the Nazi regime. That is precisely why we resolutely oppose all forms of hatred, slander/propaganda, and discrimination.”
The company is publicly taking responsibility for the ad and issued a lengthy joint statement from the brand’s head of sales and marketing Juergen Stackmann and head of diversity, Elke Heitmueller.
“We posted a racist advertising video on Volkswagen’s Instagram channel,” the duo said in the apology. “We understand the public outrage at this. Because we’re horrified, too. This video is an insult to all achievements of the civil rights movement. It is an insult to every decent person.
“I sincerely apologise as an individual in my capacity as a board member at Volkswagen sales and marketing. Hatred, racism, and discrimination have no place at Volkswagen!” Stackmann wrote on Twitter in German. “In this case, I will personally ensure full transparency and consequences!”
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