VW ad doesn’t show men as defective and replaceable, rules regulator

Business Insider SA
Volkswagen SA ad
Volkswagen SA
  • The Advertising Regulatory Board of South Africa says a television commercial by Volkswagen is not derogatory towards men.
  • A complainant argued that the ad, promoting VW’s maintenance plan, stereotyped men as defective and replaceable.
  • The ad shows a complaining male partner replaced with a more attractive and enthusiastic date.
  • But if the roles were reversed, and the ad showed a woman being replaced, there would be trouble.
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Volkswagen South Africa’s television ad promoting its EasyDrive maintenance plan is not derogatory towards men, the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) has ruled.

The ad, which was first aired a year ago, shows a complaining male partner replaced with a more attractive and enthusiastic date. A waiter delivers a flambé dish to a couple seated at an upmarket restaurant. The woman reacts enthusiastically while her partner responds with a scowl.

“You didn’t remind me to take my heartburn pill, now I’m going to be up all night,” he quips to his now-disappointed partner.

The waiter returns and interrupts the tense atmosphere. “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just replace something that doesn’t work the way it used to,” says the waiter as he whisks the man from the table only to return with a more attractive and enthusiastic date.

Here's how Volkswagen (VW) South Africa decided to promote its EasyDrive maintenance plan:

A complainant argued that the advert was derogatory and stereotyped some men.

“The Complainant submitted that the advertisement suggested that men are defective and can be replaced in the same manner as a car part,” noted the ARB in its review of the complaint.

“He suggested that the commercial is derogatory to men in that it stereotypes certain men as defective, while portraying other specific types of men as genuine.”

In response to the complaint, VW South Africa, which is not a member or the ARB and therefore not required to participate in the review process or abide by any findings made by the regulator, said the advert’s “intention was to amuse the viewership”.

“VWSA respectfully submits that this is clear from the advertisement, and that no reasonable person would take the content of the advertisement literally,” the car manufacturer noted in defence of the advert, adding that it did not stereotype men as defective or replaceable.

The regulator agreed and dismissed the complaint after assessing specific clauses of gender and discrimination within the Code of Advertising Practice.

“In the case of the commercial at hand, the man on the date is depicted as a dour and unenthusiastic partner but the commercial does not suggest that all men or even many men conform to this stereotype,” the ARB noted.

“As the Advertiser points out, the complaining man was replaced with another man.”

But the regulator did make special mention of considerations that would have applied had the roles been reversed. The ARB noted that if the complaining woman was replaced, there would be an element of “discomfort” due to the historic “marginalisation” and “commodification” of women.

“The comparison between a woman and a disposable car part might therefore, in light of this context, be more troubling than the comparison between a man and a used car part,” the ARB said.

“Despite this consideration, the Directorate concluded that as men have not historically been treated in this way, the concern is not relevant to the scenario in the current commercial.”

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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