Volkswagen has pulled a racist ad from its Instagram page, saying in a public apology Thursday that it will investigate why it was released with so many offensive undertones.
The 10-second clip for the German car company’s new Volkswagen Golf model features a giant, white hand poking and prodding a Black man, much like he’s a marionette.
At the end of the short commercial, the hand violently flicks the man into the entrance of the Petit Colon cafe in Buenos Aires, according to the BBC. The outlet explains that the cafe is next to the popular Teatro Colón, an opera house named after Christopher Columbus. The French term “Petit Colón” also translates to “Little Settler” or “Little Colonist,” giving the ad an air of colonialism.
Felix Edeha — who identifies as a Berlin-based journalist on Twitter, according to Ad Age — captured and shared the video before its deletion. In his post, he also points out that when the phrase “Der Neue Golf” (which means “The New Golf”) slowly comes into focus at the end of the ad, the first letters that are visible spell out the German equivalent of the N-word.
Volkswagen initially responded to complaints by saying the race of the people in the ad was irrelevant. The company also said it was “surprised and shocked that our Instagram story could be so misunderstood,” the BBC reported.
But the company backpedaled on Thursday when Volkswagen board member Juergen Stackmann and Volkswagen’s head of diversity management, Elke Heitmueller, said they were “horrified” by the ad in a joint Twitter statement translated into English by The Washington Post.
The statement noted that Volkswagen was “aware” of its “historical origins” — the company was founded by the Nazi government in the 1930s — adding, “That is precisely why we resolutely oppose all forms of hatred, slander/propaganda and discrimination.”
According to the Post, Stackmann and Heitmueller also said that they “cannot explain” how an ad with so much suggestive imagery was released, but they will investigate it and make the “results and consequences” public.
On top of the notoriety Volkswagen earned for its emissions cheating scandal, the company is responsible for several ads with controversial messaging.
In 2013, the company released a Super Bowl ad in which a white man spoke with a Jamaican accent and encouraged people to be more relaxed. In 2017, it ran an ad for Audi (which the company also owns) that compared women to cars. Last year, the chief executive at the company apologized after referencing a Nazi slogan.