The Bug & I

Barbara Lippert owes an apology to every single non-black Jamaican for implying that they do not exist! She has her head so far up her own... She isn't even educated enough to know that Jamaica is a country of many colors: people from Africa, India, European decent all claim Jamaica as their home and ALL speak in the same manner. This commercial is as racist as the outback commercials... Both impersonate (rather poorly) a different country's dialect. I don't find the add very funny nor creative... But it has nothing racist about it!

The above is a snippet of one of the more polite notes of the hundreds I’ve received since Monday morning, when I appeared on the “Today Show” to discuss the early release of VW’s “Get Happy” Super Bowl commercial.

The spot, a cross between “Cool Runnings” and “Office Space,” shows unhappy white dudes (and for some reason, one Asian guy) in short-sleeved white shirts and ties, glumly hanging around their soulless workplace, all with a case of the Mondays. “You know what dis room needs? A smile,” Dave from the Gopher State tells his colleagues, lit-up and gesturing during a downer of a meeting. “Who wanna come wit I?”



That sounds funny, granted. But I said I didn’t like the way “black people” were used to infuse happiness into uber-white people. That’s what brought on the letters, mostly from Jamaicans or friends of Jamaicans or people who like to vacation in Jamaica. And unlike the letter writer above, they mostly found the spot funny.

The “Today Show” subsequently put up a poll on its Web site to determine whether viewers found the spot offensive. About 93% of the voters did not.

I was told I was uptight, a dumbass, and too P.C, among other things. That’s what makes a ball game.

Still, I’d like to apologize for the gross imprecision with which I spoke. I should have made a distinction between Jamaican and “black.” Jamaica is an island with a beautiful mosaic of residents of every stripe and background. The Jamaican patois and culture is associated with fun and friendliness and "irie" (no worries,) not color. I’m sorry for my mistake.

Secondly, I realize that a word like “racist” is way too important and inflammatory a term to throw around when discussing a Super Bowl commercial featuring a positive Jamaican vibe, even if it’s a stereotype. More precisely, I should have said that I found the device of using the Jamaican voices coming out of Minnesotans too contrived, and racially insensitive.

I also found it weird that not one African-American was included in the office. Why? 

And while obviously surprising and memorable, the voice thing put me in mind of the whole Jar Jar Binks  controversy from “Episode I: Phantom Menace.” Another character with a Caribbean accent, Binks was a clumsy, loud, comic foil. It also reminded me of the time (granted, long ago) in advertising when typically, big, older black women were the only ones who were allowed to express emotion. There was an AT&T commercial in the 1970s featuring just such a woman, crying, because her son called to say he loved her.

Look, I’m know I’m just a white lady from New York.  And parts of the commercial were funny. I loved when the guy said he came from “De lahnd of ten tousand lakes.” There’s a wonderful moment when the guys are in the Beetle, the Jimmy Cliff cover of the Partridge Family song, “Get Happy” is playing, and the spot begins to make sense, because the Beetle is a happy car. The teaser, with Jimmy Cliff, was terrific.

But then the whole awkward division between uptight white guys and Jamaica comes back when they pull into a spot and another white bureaucrat says “You’re late!”  It’s too bad the whole commercial wasn’t shot with everyone singing inside the car -- it would be so much less jarring.

It’s certainly not going to be the worst commercial at the Super Bowl (if it runs.) Not even in the bottom 20. But it’s certainly not up to VW’s past standards, like “The Force.” 

But really, any car can advertise that it makes you happy.

And I found it bizarre that there is zero link, and even a vigorous disconnect, to a German car company, still touting German engineering. That’s about as far as you can get from “irie.”


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21 comments about "The Bug & I".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, January 31, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.

    While I disagree with your assessment of the entertainment value of this particular spot, I agree that there is a total disconnect between the entire Happy vibe and the payoff of German Engineering. It's even more evident in their long form teaser video ( where Jimmy Cliff is (charmingly and humorously) including all those YouTube icons of suffering people, encouraging them to "get happy." How "That's the Power of German Engineering" works to pay that off is beyond me. My reaction is just..."huh?"

  2. Paul Kurnit from Kurnit Communications, January 31, 2013 at 5:40 p.m.

    True dat, Barbara!!! The advertising offense, as you suggest, is not the island issues, it's the complete lack of linkage to VW...but, then again, Darth didn't link either until people saw it lots of times and thought one of their fave Super Bowl spots was a great car commercial for -- what was the brand -- Oh, VW!

  3. George Parker from Parker Consultants, January 31, 2013 at 5:46 p.m.

    Barbara... Screw them. This hyper-sensitivity is simply boring. You were addressing it from the point of view of its effectiveness as an ad. Hey, your column is titled "Mad Blog." It's about bloody advertising. And in this case... Like most of the other Super Bowl commercials, it's a shitty ad that has no relevance to the product. Bill Bernbach would have told the perpetrators to go back to their office and think about doing something that grows out of the uniqueness of the product. It's there... It's always there... You just have to find it. Go home and snuggle up with the tuba.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  4. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, January 31, 2013 at 6:06 p.m.

    I wondered who had dubbed the voices in the spot.
    Maybe someone should interview them.
    Actually, I met a guy last year (white guy) whose family was in Jamaica three hundred years ago. He does a very good job with full-blown patois, never mind the lingo in the spot that seemed pretty close to George Parker's odd way of talking.

  5. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, January 31, 2013 at 6:44 p.m.

    Don't sweat it, Barbara. I saw you on Monday, and realized how desperate and dated the whole pre-Superbowl ad "controversy" game has become. The spots were uniformly lame, and the PR folks efforts even more lame. VW should be the loser, for the spot itself, and for resorting to the "race card" to drive (sorry for the pun) awareness. Despicable!

  6. Mike Cornelison from @mcjazzbass, January 31, 2013 at 7:35 p.m.

    That is so sad. You are so racially obsessed that you even carry around with you as evidence of racism some AT&T commercial from the 1970s that had a black woman crying over her son's phone call! How about just looking at her as a mother, crying because she's happy? They don't do that with white moms in commercials? Seriously? I feel bad for white moms then.

    How could you not love this commercial? What, you took offense to the fact that it suggests there are cultural difference in this world? You think the commercial suggests "laziness" is a part of the Jamaican culture? That's on you the viewer, not the commercial itself. There is not a single thing in that commercial that suggests anything close to the Minnesota guy (or the *one* Asian co-worker or the boss man who took up on that happy attitude) as being anything resembling lazy.

    Who could possibly see that commercial and not want to emulate that positive Jamaican attitude? Certainly not the Jamaican people as Jamaica's minister of tourism has made very clear.

    It's like a compulsion, and it's something very sad when people are determined to view anything and everything around them through some racial prism.

    Hey look, it's a commercial with Germans drinking beer dancing at Oktoberfest! That's sooo racist! It's a commercial with an Asian guy making sushi at a sushi bar! Raaacist!

    This is already one of the most successful commercials of the Super Bowl, and the fact that anyone could take offense to it is mindblowing to me.

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 31, 2013 at 8:32 p.m.

    Wouldn't it be a hoot if Jamaican tourism increases and VW not so much ? It makes white guys look stupid living in a bubble world and should take a trip to Jamaica to open their world and have fun. Driving there is fun ? Not from Minnesota where it was the worst place (it's own story) to have the Superbowl. Maybe that's the joke.

  8. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, January 31, 2013 at 9:45 p.m.

    Although I hate to bring up work I did in the paleo-age of advertising, the AT&T spot referenced (which TV Guide at one point called the 18th best commercial ever made) was one that I satirized for MCI (and TV Guide called it the 17th best commercial ever made). "Joey Called" was the title of the AT&T-N.W.Ayer commercial. Our (Ally & Gargano/Bob Giraldi/George Euringer) spot was called "Black Couple" as we weren't much into titling. I think both spots were not viewed ever as racist or sexist, and were pretty well-received by everyone except maybe Sprint. We cast a couple of New York actors, and Ayer probably did as well.

  9. George Parker from Parker Consultants, January 31, 2013 at 9:46 p.m.

    Mike Cornelison is obviously a churl. When he says it's sad that people are determined to view everything around them through some racial prism. "Hey look, it's a commercial with Germans drinking beer dancing at Oktoberfest! That's sooo racist! It's a commercial with an Asian guy making sushi at a sushi bar! Raaacist!" This was a guy from Minnesota speaking like a fucking Rasta. All he needed was a giant Ganja spiff and a coat of many colors. Maybe it wasn't racist, but it certainly wasn't relevant to the point Barbara was making about the ad.
    And Tom... It aint Rasta, it's Mancunian.
    Red Stripe time.

  10. George Parker from Parker Consultants, January 31, 2013 at 9:58 p.m.

    Never be embarrassed about bringing up work from the paleo--three-martini-age of advertising. Being an alumni, I am a strong believer that most of it was far superior to the dreck we are subjected to these days... Simply compare this particular VW spot we are discussing right now to anything out of DDB in the 60's. Munchen Spaten time.

  11. Mike Cornelison from @mcjazzbass, January 31, 2013 at 10:10 p.m.

    How cool is this, it's like I'm hanging out with the cast of Mad Men here. Hey George, you're right, my example would have been much more offensive if it had been a group of Asians drinking beer and dancing in the lederhosen.

  12. George Parker from Parker Consultants, January 31, 2013 at 10:26 p.m.

    That's OK, you have to meet Tom and I in the King Cole Bar of the St Regis (Or, as a much younger workmate of mine once referred to it as, The Nat King Cole Bar. Ha, fucking Ha) Where you will ply us with very large, extra dry Martinis... And all will be forgiven.

  13. Mike Cornelison from @mcjazzbass, January 31, 2013 at 10:52 p.m.

    LOL!!! I can already tell the stories you guys could share would be well worth the bar tab. I'm old enough to vaguely remember MCI had a take off on that memorable AT&T commercial, I was just a kid, but I'd probably remember a lot of the stuff you guys did.

  14. Brenda Garrand from Garrand, February 1, 2013 at 5:06 a.m.

    There's always been the whole question in advertising of whether we cause or reflect culture. Feminists moan loud and long about gender bias, blacks curse Aunt Jemima (and I suppose Aussies rue the Gecko.) in a rapidly evolving world where yesterday's sometimes unfortunate realities seem today to be ghastly, we in the industry have developed a hair trigger that causes us to sometimes discard great insight for fear it might offend. This is not to excuse or even permit cruel bad taste, it is, however a reminder that our work's primary objective is to sell while doing minimal harm to the brands we represent. With that lens in place, I'd agree with those who say the VW commercial misses core positioning (German Engineering) in favor of a Minnesota sight gag. It's too clever by half and not in a good way. Funny? Yeah, probably. Offensive, nah, not really. It's biggest problem is disconnection.

  15. George Parker from Parker Consultants, February 1, 2013 at 7:25 a.m.

    @Brenda... You are right about the disconnection, all too common a fault in far too many ads today. However, don't worry about the Aussies being pissed about the Gecko... He a Brit with a strong cockney accent. Cheers/George

  16. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, February 1, 2013 at 7:57 a.m.

    WERE Manchesterians, George, offended by the "cream of manchester" spot in which a woman up there used the head of the local beer (Boddington's) as a fragrance to entice local men as if it were Chanel?
    As for the Gecko, the best spot he did was the one where he did a number on that hideous Chicago accent. If President Obama had picked up that accent he never would have gotten the nomination, let alone be the first President to talk like a Bears' fan.

  17. George Parker from Parker Consultants, February 1, 2013 at 10:05 a.m.

    @Tom... It's Mancunians... And Boddingtons was bought by a big beer company that now make it in the BLOODY SOUTH! In Manchester, the brewery was next to the prison. The prisoners could smell the beer 24/7. The true definition of "cruel and unusual punishment."

  18. Brenda Garrand from Garrand, February 1, 2013 at 10:39 a.m.

    @George, Too right! Of course he's a Cockney. What was I thinking? Cheers, to you as well. And, by the way, I want in on the King Cole gambit.

  19. Mike Cornelison from @mcjazzbass, February 1, 2013 at 12:35 p.m.

    @Brenda - I'm not in the business, although I always enjoy it when I'm forced to wear that hat in my own ventures, so this is a layman's supposition here, but I would imagine for all the rules of "core positioning" and consistently pushing your identity at every opportunity, if there was one day out of the year when all the normal rules go out the window, it would be Super Bowl Sunday. You think of how the next day people will be talking about the commercials they remember the most and the media is compiling lists of the most memorable commercials, I would imagine a special set of rules apply, namely: be memorable.

  20. v king from private, February 3, 2013 at 4:15 p.m.

    Thank you for your apology. As a white West Indian I found your belief of this ad was racist offensive and I appreciate your apology.
    But in your apology you wrote:
    "And I found it bizarre that there is zero link, and even a vigorous disconnect, to a German car company, still touting German engineering. That’s about as far as you can get from “irie.”
    But of course nobody gets up in arms about depicting germans as uptight hitler loving folks. I find that offensive too.
    I suggest you stop stereotyping jamaicans germans etc and you might put your foot less often in your mouth.

  21. Mike Cornelison from @mcjazzbass, February 4, 2013 at 10:08 p.m.

    How the sixty spots ranked in Facebook likes:

    Rewatch some of your favorites and vote!

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