The company said the ad, which features a white person flicking a black person into a café called "Petit Colon," "offends every decent person"

By Rachel DeSantis
May 21, 2020 11:34 AM
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Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty

Volkswagen has apologized for airing a racist ad on its social media channels, saying the public outcry was justified, as the company is “horrified” by the commercial.

The Buenos Aires-set ad — which has since been pulled — began with a black man in a suit being pushed around by a larger-than-life white hand while cartoon-like sound effects played in the background.

Another large hand then entered the screen and moved the man around like a marionette before flicking him into a café called “Petit Colon,” which translates from French and German to little settler or little colonist in English.

The clip was meant to promote the VW Golf 8, and was broadcast on the German automaker’s Instagram and Facebook as part of a larger series meant to depict a “love story” between a black man and a white woman, the BBC reported.

The ad quickly drew criticism from social media users who criticized it as “racist garbage,” and others who declared that they would no longer buy Volkswagen vehicles.

“Hatred, racism and discrimination have no place at Volkswagen,” VW’s head of sales and marketing Jürgen Stackmann wrote on Twitter. “In this case, I will personally ensure full transparency and consequences.”

In an additional statement with the company’s head of diversity Elke Heitmüller, Stackmann acknowledged that the ad was racist, and said it “offends every decent person.”

“We understand the public horror about it. Because we are horrified ourselves,” the statement read. “We are ashamed of it and cannot explain [how it came about]… We will make the results and consequences of the investigation public.”

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The statement acknowledged how the company was founded in the late 1930s under the Nazi regime, and said that's exactly why Volkswagen is “resolutely opposing all forms of hatred, agitation and discrimination.”

“We apologize on behalf of Volkswagen AG to the entire public for this film,” it said. “And we especially apologize to those who feel personally hurt by the racist content through their own history.”

According to the BBC, the apology came after the company initially responded to criticism on social media by saying that the origin of the characters was irrelevant, and that it was “surprised and shocked” that the ad was “so misunderstood.”

Volkswagen — which also operates Audi, Skoda, Seat and Porsche brands — previously came under fire last year and was forced to issue an apology after CEO Herbert Diess used the expression “Ebit macht frei,” or, “Ebit sets you free,” CNN Business reported.

Though “Ebit” is short for earnings before interest, the phrase sounds similar to “Arbeit macht frei,” which was frequently used by Nazis and placed on entrances to multiple German concentration camps, the outlet noted.