Volkswagen apologizes for 'racist' Instagram ad showing giant white hand pushing black man around

The ad was designed based on trending videos where one person appears to be controlling another like a puppet. Volkswagen initially tried to defend it by saying the ethnicity depicted was not relevant


                            Volkswagen apologizes for 'racist' Instagram ad showing giant white hand pushing black man around
(Getty Images)

German carmaker Volkswagen has apologized and taken down an advertisement after social media backlash deemed it "racist" and "insulting". The ad shows a giant white hand pushing a black man around before flicking him dismissively through a doorway. According to media reports, the hand was interpreted as making a "white power" gesture. Meanwhile, some viewers claimed that the floating letters in the clip faded in a manner that appeared to briefly spell out the German equivalent of the n-word.

Some others took said the sign above the building the man disappears into as offensive. It reads "Petit Colon" which reportedly translates to "Little Settler" or "Little Colonist". Volkswagen has now apologized and promised to investigate how the advert came about — one of a series of ads released on Instagram on Tuesday, May 19, aimed at promoting the latest VW Golf.

According to a Metro report, the series was intended to depict a love story set in Buenos Aires. One of the ads in the series showed a woman leaving a love letter in an envelope on the windscreen in a playful bid to fool the owner that he had a parking ticket. However, the controversial ad shows a giant white hand intervening to prevent a black man from knocking against or touching a brand new Golf parked on a street.

The ad was designed based on videos trending on social media where one person appears to be controlling another like a puppet. Volkswagen initially tried to defend the ad on Instagram by saying the ethnicity of the people depicted was not relevant and that it was "surprised and shocked that our Instagram story could be so misunderstood." However, the car giant soon backtracked on their defense, saying it would not tolerate any form of racism and agreed "without question" that the ad was, in fact, "wrong and tasteless."

Herbert Diess, CEO of German automaker Volkswagen AG, speaks at the company's annual press conference at Volkswagen headquarters on March 12, 2019, in Wolfsburg, Germany (Getty Images)

"We understand the public outrage at this. Because we're horrified, too," the company said in a statement. "This video is an insult to all achievements of the civil rights movement. It is an insult to every decent person." The statement continued, "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."

"We distance ourselves from it and apologize for it. We will clarify how this could have happened, and draw the necessary conclusions," the company added. VW was founded on orders by German dictator Adolf Hitler in a bid to build the "people's car." The company infamously employed forced laborers to make Hitler's aspirations a reality at the time.

According to a company spokesman, their advertising campaigns are usually produced by outside agencies and it is now investigating where the mistake took place. This is not the first debacle to have rocked the company of late. Chief executive Herbert Diess was forced to apologize last year after he reportedly joked about a Nazi slogan at a company event. Volkswagen is also trying to repair its image five years after the notorious Dieselgate emissions scandal, which saw several German carmakers install software in their vehicles to cheat conventional emissions tests.

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