Who knew that Volkswagen’s mock-Jamaican ad, which aired during Sunday’s Super Bowl, would ignite such a huge controversy online and in the Twitterverse? Apart from the stadium blackout and close winning score, this was the moment that garnered all other media and online attention. Media pundits are debating whether the ad is racist – a potential black eye for a company and its ad agency.
The controversial commercial features a white American male from Minnesota cheering up his downtrodden office colleagues with self-help phrases spoken in a Jamaican accent. The background music is “C’mon, Get Happy” by Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff. The white man is the proud owner of a Volkswagen. Tagline: “Get in. Get happy.”
Even before airing, the commercial provoked debate about racism. There were calls for it to be removed from the Super Bowl’s playlist. Volkswagen stood by the ad and brought out Wykeham McNeill, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, who said, “I think this is a very creative commercial which truly taps into the tremendous appeal that brand Jamaica and its hospitable people have globally.” What do viewers think? The jury is out, and growing. The ad, which debuted on Volkswagen’s YouTube channel on Jan. 27, has received over 8,600,00 views.
THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Volkswagen for creating a PR moment that stands out without getting out of hand.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Let others do the talking – but control the chat. Better than fighting the battle head-on, Volkswagen secured the Jamaican government’s unofficial endorsement; if Jamaicans aren’t offended, why should anyone else be? Potentially racist heat removed from the debate, all that’s left is enormous curiosity, and millions of YouTube views and Tweets. A good combination of hype, damage control, and publicity.