Does Jamaican flavor of Volkswagen’s Super Bowl ad go too far?


As Super Bowl ads start to trickle online in anticipation of Super Sunday, one spot is already facing a wave of criticism that could lead to its being pulled off the air during the big game, Esther Zuckerman of The Atlantic Wire reports. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for sending all this material, which clearly involved thorough research.]

The ad comes from Volkswagen, a company that has made waves on Super Sunday for the past two years by way of adorable dogs and small Darth Vaders. This year, the German auto maker’s commercial features a man from Minnesota speaking in a Jamaican accent:


The controversy got its start on CNN yesterday when Jamaican-born Christopher John Farley of the Wall Street Journal said: “Although I love you featuring Jimmy Cliff in the ad, a terrific Jamaican performance, the Jamaican accent did sort of strike me as Jar Jar Binks-ish.” The New York Times‘s Charles Blow had a more intense reaction, saying the accent was “like blackface with voices.” The commercial was discussed this morning on the Today show and their “ad expert” Barbara Lippert, the editor-at-large of, said “this is so racist.”

VW America Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mahoney has been defending the ad on CNN: “We did our homework to make sure we weren’t offensive so we did some research to make sure we didn’t go in a direction we didn’t want to go.” Additionally, Mahoney explained that they VW marketers talked to about 100 Jamaicans in the research phase and had a speech coach on hand. And there isn’t unanimous outrage: On CNN, Soledad O’Brien said she liked it, the Today show couch was divided on opinion, and people on Twitter have been standing up for the ad (you can see a sampling by clicking on the link below):

Of course, if the controversy becomes bigger than the ad itself, there’s always the possibility that the commercial might not run on Game Day. On Today Savannah Guthrie said, “we heard that the ad agency, I guess anticipating that there may be controversy, has a couple of other back options in case VW pulls the ad.” USA Today elaborated on the back-up ads in place.

For the original report go to

You can watch a “Behind the Scenes” of the commercial teaser with a Jimmy Cliff interview here:


The Commercial’s Teaser Video (“Sunny Side”) with Jimmy Cliff (Get Happy)

The online discussion about whether the commercial is culturally offensive:

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

Is Volkswagen’s Super Bowl Ad Racist?

Laura Stampler, Business Insider

Volkswagen teases Super Bowl ad, explains why it doesn’t star Jar Jar Binks

Hillary Busis, PopWatch, January 28, 2013

Why Cries of Racism Won’t Sink Volkswagen’s Super Bowl Ad. Deutsch spot still likely to air

Tim Nudd, AdWeek

Does Jamaican flavor of Volkswagen’s Super Bowl ad go too far?

Ian Sager,

Volkswagen’s 2013 Super Bowl Ad Isn’t Racist, But It Might As Well Be

Emily Abbate, The Stir

Is New Volkswagen Super Bowl Ad the Jar Jar Binks of 2013?

Christopher John Farley, The Wall Street Journal

Jamaican Accent: Super Bowl’s First Ad Controversy?

Jenée Desmond-Harris, The Root

Volkswagen Super Bowl ad stirs controversy online

Mae Anderson, Associated Press

Volkswagen Super Bowl ad accused of being racist

Paul Farhi, Washington Post

VW Jamaica-theme Super Bowl ad: Racist?

Bruce Horovitz, USA Today

Volkswagen’s ‘Jamaican’ Super Bowl ad sparks debate

Kyle Harvey, The Grio (NBC News)

Volkswagen’s Super Bowl 2013 ad sparks controversy

Nick Tragianis, National Post

Volkswagen’s Super Bowl ad criticized for Jamaican racism

Scott Paulson, Examiner

Volkswagen Super Bowl Ad Accused of Racism

Aaron Couch, The Hollywood Reporter

Is Volkswagen’s 2013 Super Bowl Ad the Most Racist Yet?

Alex Marin, PolicyMic

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