Everyone loves a good Super Bowl ad scandal, but Volkswagen is one of the last companies we’d expect to be accused of inappropriate content.
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Between a pint-sized Darth Vader and an adorably obese dog, VW and its ad agency, Deutsch LA, have cemented a reputation for making truly great creative work for the Super Bowl.
But eyebrows have been raised over its newly released Super Bowl spot, in which a white Minnesotan man sports a Jamaican accent because he is so happy about his new Volkswagen. He cavorts around the office to the tune of reggae legend Jimmy Cliff’s new rendition of the Partridge Family theme song “Get Happy.”
Although Soledad O’Brien said that she liked the spot on CNN‘s “Starting Point,” her guest, New York Time’s columnist Charles Blow, had a different opinion. “I don’t like it at all,” he said. “It’s like blackface with voices.”
Wall Street Journal’s Christopher John Farley agreed that the superimposed accent was problematic given that it was “coming out of people who seemingly weren’t supposed to be from Jamaica, so it was done as a joke.” He even referred to it as the “Jar Jar Binks of 2013.”
VW America marketing officer Tim Mahoney told O’Brien, however, that “We actually talked to about 100 Jamaicans in the research, and we had a speech coach on site to make sure it was authentic as possible.”
Mahoney also talked about his excitement over signing Cliff on as a collaborator in the piece — although Cliff doesn’t physically appear in the spot, just the 60-second trailer.
We asked Deutsch for comment; we’ll update this item when the agency responds.
While “The Force” became a viral success on YouTube, this spot has had mixed reviews on the site. User “MrJJ1030” questioned if the ad was implying that “the power of German engineering is making white Americans turn black?” while Richard Lewis defended the spot, posting: “I am Jamaican and I don’t find it racist. As a matter of fact it is quite amusing, most people will tell you that Jamaican and people in the Caribbean are happy people so it demonstrate that happiness of the people can be found in the experience of driving the car.”
There’s also much discussion over the quality of the accent. While some, claiming to be Jamaican, say the accent is spot on, “Henri Helvetica” commented on Mashable’s coverage of the spot that he, a Caribbean, “can tell it’s not authentic. This reminds me of the period in advertising where agencies trying to reach a LATINO audience, would make translations word for word – only to not make any sense in the end, or getting any *black* actor to play a Caribbean only to force them to fake the accent (#brutal).”
Helvetica noted that this was a cultural criticism rather than “a racial attack.”
USA Today reported that Deutsch LA has one or two other options in case VW decides not to use the ad in the game. “To minimize the risk, we have a backup,” Mahoney told USA Today.
Watch the spot below and let us know what you think:
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