German automotive company Audi has come under fire for airing a sexist commercial that compared women to used cars — and also reinforced Asian stereotypes.
The commercial, which aired in China, depicts a bride and a groom about to be wed at the altar. The groom’s mother interrupts the ceremony, rushing up to the bride and vigorously inspecting her physical appearance. The mother grabs the bride’s nose, pulls her ear and yanks her mouth open to get a better look inside.
The groom pulls his mother off and she begins to retreat, seemingly in approval — only to turn back around and glance in horror at the bride’s breasts. The bride gasps and covers them with her hands.
“An important decision must be made carefully,” a narrator says (according to English subtitles).
Critics slammed the commercial, which Audi reported on Wednesday has been withdrawn, according to USA Today and the Washington Post.
Many people responded on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site similar to Facebook and Twitter. One person called the ad “sick” and called for a “boycott.”
“Discrimination against women?” one user questioned.
One person called it “vulgar marketing.” Another wrote, in part, “Audi[’s] second-hand car … ad is too disgusting, and materialized women.”
The South China Morning Post reported that other comments included:
“[I] Strongly request that this ad is pulled, and for Audi to issue an apology for this kind of unconscientious creation.”
“From the inception of this idea to its broadcasting, was there a single woman who worked on this commercial?”
“I was actually going to buy an Audi, but I will definitely won’t now.”
According to the Washington Post, one Weibo user also pointed out the negative stereotypes the commercial enforces about Chinese marriages.
“The annoying thing about Audi’s used-car ad, besides its objectification of women, is that it thinks Chinese customers deserve only commercials like this,” wrote the user. “It assumes romantic relationships for Chinese men and women are just like this: dominated by the mother-in-law, controlled by the male and with a passive female. … Would Audi air such a discriminatory commercial in Europe or the U.S.?”
A spokesperson reported to the Washington Post that Audi “deeply regrets” the commercial.
“The ad’s perception that has been created for many people does not correspond to the values of our company in any way,” Moritz Drechsel, the spokesperson, told the publication by email. “The responsible department of the joint venture has arranged a thorough investigation of the internal control and coordination processes so that an incident like this can be excluded in the future.”
But this is not Audi’s first brush with issues regarding sexism in its advertising.
The company attempted to support pay equity but brought attention to its own board’s lack of diversity.
The company garnered a lot of praise for seemingly promoting gender equality in its Super Bowl ad this past February.
In the commercial titled “Daughter,” you hear the thoughts of a father watching his daughter cart race with boys:
“What do I tell my daughter? Do I tell her that her grandpa’s worth more than her grandma? That her dad is worth more than her mom? Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets? Or, maybe, I’ll be able to tell her something different.”
Prior to Super Bowl Sunday, Audi tweeted its commercial February 1 with the following statement: “Women are still paid 21% less than men. As a brand that believes in progress, we are committed to equal pay for equal work. #DriveProgress.”
Twitter users noted that Audi does not practice what it preaches and pointed to the company’s board of directors.
— Qasim Rashid, Esq. (@MuslimIQ) February 6, 2017
Audi’s parent company, Volkswagen, does not fare much better. Its eight-member board of management only has one woman and is almost entirely white (one member was born in Spain).
Perhaps if Audi’s had more diversity among its leadership, this misstep could have been avoided, as gender diverse boards have proven to be beneficial for companies.
DiversityInc Top 50 survey data found a correlation between women representation on boards and diversity-management performance. The DiversityInc Top 50, on average, has 26.4 percent more women on its boards, compared to 20.2 percent for the Fortune 500.
PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (No. 4 on the DiversityInc 2017 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) annual corporate survey, published in October, questioned more than 800 corporate directors of public companies. Of the participants, 71 percent serve on the boards of companies with more than $1 billion in annual revenue.
When breaking down the statistics between the male and female respondents, a disparity in perspectives is revealed:
• Women directors are much more likely to think board diversity improves company performance — 89 percent compared to 24 percent of men.
• Women directors overwhelmingly believe board diversity improves board effectiveness — 92 percent versus 38 percent of men.
The company’s “Just do it” slogan does not apply to diversity for its board members.
Similar to Audi’s Super Bowl ad, Nike also released a commercial promoting equality in February. The ad entitled just that, “Equality,” features high profile athletes of color as a narrator says:
“Is this the land history promised? Here, within these lines? On this concrete court? This patch of turf? Here, you’re defined by your actions — not your looks, or beliefs. Equality should have no boundaries. The bonds we find here should run past these lines. Opportunity should not discriminate. The ball should bounce the same for everyone. Worth should outshine color. If we can be equals here, we can be equals everywhere.”
But a look at the company’s boardroom tells a different story of equality. Of its 11 board members, only three — or about 20 percent — are female. And racial diversity is not present, either, and looks exactly the same as it did in FY 2011.
Nike’s long term ad agency, Wieden + Kennedy has a similar astonishing lack of diversity. Of the seven people pictured on their website, their “next generation of leadership” is almost all white men.
Pictures of the company’s Portland and New York employees appear to show some racial and gender diversity in New York but leave it unclear for Portland employees, just outside where Nike is headquartered.