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Volkswagen: Lack of diversity led to racist Golf ad

An investigation within VW found no racist intent, but an executive said a lack of diversity among the staff was to blame.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Sport Cross
VW will set up a new diversity board to check for offensive content in future ads.
Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Following intense backlash over an ad Volkswagen Group admitted was racist and horrifying, the German automaker's investigation into the ad's development found no racist intent. However, an executive declared a lack of diversity among the staff was responsible for the spot and admitted the automaker "made mistakes."

The Financial Times reported on comments VW's marketing head Jochen Sengpiehl made on Thursday. He underscored there was no "racist intent" among the staff responsible for the ad, but acknowledged a lack  of "cultural insensitivity" was clearly on display.

The ad in question, which ran on Instagram briefly in Europe, showed a large white hand pushing and flicking a black man away from a new Volkswagen Golf. Viewers immediately pointed out the hand pushed the black man into a cafe named "Petit Colon," or "little settler." The name can be taken as reference to colonialism.

As the spot finishes, viewers also noted the way "der neue Golf" spells out in the ad, which for a moment, shows a racial slur in the German language.

It's unclear whether VW will dismiss any employees over the ad, but Hiltrud Werner, the board member overseeing integrity and legal affairs, said committees will make the final decision. She added managers would ultimately be held responsible for letting the ad slide through.

VW did not immediately respond for an additional request for comment on the matter, but FT reported the automaker will create a new board of diversity experts. Their jobs will include checking future ads for insulting or disrespectful content. VW didn't originally apologize for the ad, but simply said it was "shocked and surprised" by viewers' reactions. The automaker, and its US operations, both issued formal apologies a day later.

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