A Berlin-based agency owned by advertising giant Omnicom is investigating whether an act of deliberate sabotage led to the publication of a racist advert for a new Volkswagen Golf model.
The world’s largest carmaker apologised on Wednesday after the publication of a short Instagram video to promote the Golf 8 that featured an oversized white hand pushing round a smaller dark-skinned figure.
VW executives said they were “horrified” by the “racist advertising video” while Voltage, the agency that created it, said they had begun an internal investigation.
“If there is any evidence that an employee or supplier deliberately conceived and planted racist or bigoted messages within our communication, it will lead to an immediate dismissal and legal repercussions,” Toby Pschorr, Voltage’s chief executive said in a statement.
The company, a subsidiary of DDB that works exclusively for Volkswagen, would not comment further on the scope of the probe. DDB is part of the Omnicom Group.
However Mr Pschorr, who also sits on DDB’s executive board and has worked with VW for eight years, said approval processes at the company would be “scrutinised and re-evaluated to avoid something like this ever happening again”.
Last year, Volkswagen called the Voltage Golf 8 promotion its “most extensive campaign everʺ, with more than 450 online and offline images and clips. Voltage also created Volkswagen’s recruitment campaign, which included a “software is female” element to underline the company’s commitment to diversity.
The agency’s website appeared to be down over the weekend and the VW brand’s German language Twitter account was locked.
Volkswagen has also launched an internal investigation and has promised to make the results public. The group has one of the largest advertising budgets in the world, with the VW brand alone spending €1.5bn on marketing in 2019.
The now-deleted ad was part of a series set in Argentina about an interracial couple falling in love.
In another scene, the man approaches the car to find what appears to be a parking ticket on the dashboard, only to discover it is a love letter.
The white hand in the deleted advert belongs to the woman, who appears to be pushing her partner away from a yellow Golf 8 model. Placing a hand close to the camera so that it seems to be holding or controlling a figure further away is a common social media meme.
As the advert ends, the German words for “the new Golf” are faded in, in a way that appears to spell out a racist epithet for a split second.
Some social media users noted that the restaurant in Buenos Aires that the man is pushed into by the giant hand is called Petit Colon, which can be translated as “small coloniser” in German.
The restaurant is near the Teatro Colón opera house, which is named after Christopher Columbus.