Super Bowl Commercials 2013: Latest on Controversial Volkswagen Advertisement

Alex KayCorrespondent IJanuary 30, 2013

Photo credit: Volkswagen on YouTube
Photo credit: Volkswagen on YouTube

Volkswagen made a name for itself during the “Big Game” by incorporating Star Wars into its spots over the past two years, but has elected to go in a different direction in 2013.

On Monday, the German automaker released their one-minute spot that will air during the Super Bowl via CNN, and it has drawn a wide range of responses.

It appears VW is trying to convey simple happiness in a drab, Monday morning workplace environment, utilizing a thick Jamaican accent and Jimmy Cliff’s rendition of The Partridge Family theme song to accomplish this.

The ad features a white male, revealed in the commercial to be a Minnesota native, speaking in the accent and attempting to bring a positive attitude to his coworkers. While this confuses some of them initially, it eventually proves to be infectious.

While the message itself isn’t harmful, some critics are calling this advertisement offensive due to its superimposed use of a Jamaican accent.

According to Christopher John Farley of The Wall Street Journal:

The Jamaican patois, coming out of the mouths of people who seem to be Americans, might remind people of Jar Jar Binks, an alien from the second “Star Wars” trilogy who spoke “broken” English for comic effect. Instead of laughing, some viewers were outraged.

When Farley asked VW America marketing officer Tim Mahoney why the ad agency, Deutsch LA, decided the accent would be an acceptable tactic on Soledad O’Brien’s Starting Point (via Business Insider), Mahoney responded: “We actually talked to about 100 Jamaicans in the research, and we had a speech coach on site to make sure it was authentic as possible."

USA Today’s Bruce Horovitz caught up with Mahoney on Tuesday to discuss the ad, and it seems that there are at least two backup plans in place. He said, “to minimize the risk, we have a backup” and there are two other potential ads that could run instead during the Super Bowl.

Perhaps Volkswagen released the “Be Happy” spot early to gauge viewer reaction and test whether or not it would be suitable to run with potentially 110 million viewers watching intently.