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Volkswagen’s Super Bowl ad: Is it funny or kind of offensive?

Published January 29, 2013

With their latest Super Bowl commercial shoot, Volkswagen is taking an enormous, strategic gamble.

Two years ago, it aired “The Force,” an endearing commercial about a cute kid dressed as a mini-Darth Vader, who is shocked at his own apparent powers to start a VW by simply pointing at it and using his “force.” (It’s actually his father who does it, by pressing a nifty engine starter on his key fob.)

The ad became an instant Super Bowl classic and ranks as one of the most popular— and widely viewed— Super Bowl ads of all time. It attracted some 2 million YouTube views in just the day after it aired.

Last year, VW started to slowly pivot away from “Star Wars.” Its 2012 Super Bowl spot was about a hefty dog who gets svelte enough to chase a VW all the way to an alien bar, where the “Star Wars” crew and cute kid make a cameo appearance.

More: The top Super Bowl ads of all time

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But this year, the cute kid, the dog and “Star Wars” all are getting the heave. VW is feeling its oats. Or its octane.

“You put yourself into a creative box if you build everything around ‘Star Wars,’ ” said Tim Mahoney, chief product and marketing officer at VW. “We opted for a larger statement about the brand.”

That statement: Driving a VW will make you happy.

This year’s spot is about a guy whose happiness is infectious. Never mind that he’s a tall, white Midwesterner who speaks in a thick Jamaican accent. Whenever he sees others in stress—which is nonstop during the commercial shot at his workplace — he reassures them with positive words that sound much like a reggae song, “No problem, maaaan. Everyting weeell be allll-right.”

By the commercial’s end, it’s clear the source of his happiness is his VW. The ad ends with even his most stressed-out co-workers chanting his same happy-go-lucky phrase—with the same accent.

See the commercial below:

Editor’s note: Already, the ad has sparked a range of reactions, with some accusing the spot of racism and comparing the commercial’s use of Caribbean stereotypes to the much-maligned Jar Jar Binks character in the Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace.

Volkswagen America marketing officer Tim Mahoney defended the accusations on CNN by saying, “We obviously did our homework to make sure that we weren’t offensive.” He added that the carmaker had consulted with “about a hundred Jamaicans” before deciding to do the ad.

What do you think of the ad? Do you think it’s funny or kind of offensive?


(USA Today story distributed by MCT Information Services)

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