Volkswagen aired a commercial during Super Bowl XLVII of white actors impersonating Jamaicans with the tagline to "Get Happy." This has many viewers crying foul on Volkswagen's part, claiming the ad is racist and insulting to Jamaicans.
In the 60-second ad, a white office worker from the Midwest speaking in a Jamaican accent, displays a cheerful and upbeat attitude throughout his work day in an attempt to cheer up his fellow coworkers. The man is supposed to be so happy about his new Volkswagen that it causes him to carry that happiness into all areas of his life. Many are saying the ad is culturally insensitive and offensive to others. New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow claimed the Super Bowl was "blackface with voices."
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This controversy has come to much surprise to Jamaica, a country that is visibly extremely diverse. Lawmaker Edmund Bartlett said that the television ad is a perfect illustration of Jamaican culture's global reach and the country's stance to remain happy even in challenging situations. Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill said he believes the ad could boost Jamaica's tourism with the ad showing the country's residents as welcoming and very hospitable.
"I think this is a very creative commercial which truly taps into the tremendous appeal that brand Jamaica and its hospitable people have globally," McNeill said.
When the ad leaked to the Internet on Monday, many believed it should be pulled from air and thought Volkswagen could lose revenue with the controversy. Volkswagen paid $8 million to make the ad and never had any plans to pull its commercial from being aired. Tim Mahoney, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Volkswagen of America, said that the car company consulted with 100 Jamaicans and even used a dialect coach to ensure that all information was acceptable and that accents were accurate.
Volkswagen is known for creative Super Bowl ads. Two years ago they created the most talked about ad of the event when a young boy dressed as Darth Vader "started" a Volkswagen with no keys. The ad earned praise and was referred to as one of the most popular Super Bowl ads ever. While this commercial might not go down as one of the most beloved ads ever, the controversy that surrounded the ad will not be forgotten.