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January 28th, 2013
09:40 AM ET

EXCLUSIVE: VW reveals 2013 Super Bowl ad and 'Starting Point' panel debates use of Jamaican accent

Sure the "Super Bowl" is all about letting the best football team of the year really shine, but for folks watching at home it's all about the commercials.

Volkswagon is responsible for some of the most memorable Super Bowl ads of the past two years, including 2011's "The Force" featuring little Darth Vader. Last year's "The Dog Strikes Back" followed up on the success, watching a pooch with big dreams of chasing a car.

This morning, Volkswagen reveals their 2013 Super Bowl ad exclusively on "Starting Point." VW America's Tim Mahoney talks with Soledad O'Brien about the inspiration for the ad.

The ad features a man interacting around an office setting with a Jamaican accent, who then gets into a Volkswagen with other colleagues to find their 'happy.' The song 'Come On, Get Happy' plays in the background.

"First and foremost, we want to do great VW advertising," Mahoney says. "And that particular ad we think is really important for these times because VW is a brand that really puts a smile on your face. I think that does that at the end."

"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," Mahoney says about the Jamaican accent used in the commercial. "The ad tested incredibly well."

"Wall Street Journal" sr. editorial director Chris John Farley, who was born in Jamaica, asks Mahoney if he had run the ad by Jamaicans and what their reaction is. "Although I love you featuring Jimmy Cliff, the Jamaican accent did sort of strike me as Jar Jar Binks-ish," Farley says.

"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," Mahoney says. "For me, it's a great mash up."

After the interview, "New York Times" columnist Charles Blow weighs in on the ad, saying he didn't like it and the Jamaican accent was "like blackface with voices."

We want to hear from you: What do you think of the Volkswagen Super Bowl ad?

Filed under: Super Bowl
soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Engineers_Everywhere

    I was offended by this commercial. It wasn't because of the Jamaican accent though. It was because of the sentence that was displayed on the screen at the end of the commercial. "That's the power of German engineering" I'm sure German engineers were offended by the use of their proud reputation and accomplishments to promote such a stupid commercial. On the other hand, I am an American engineer, and I'm tired of marketing people trying to make the term German engineering into something that it is not. It does not mean "Don't worry be happy". Make up your mind and change your ads or your slogan VW. Are you "Don't worry, be happy", or are you German Engineering, which means something totally different, because you can't have both?

    February 4, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • sloppyj30

      Hells yeah, EE! TELL IT! It's about time someone stood up for . . wait; what??

      I'm sure there's a point buried there somewhere, but I'll be doggoned if I can locate it.

      February 5, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Aileca

    Love the ad. Immitation is the highest form of flattery.

    February 4, 2013 at 11:25 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Sherri

    I am Jamaican, and I endorse this VW ad. It was positive, enlightening, and extremely funny. From my perspective, it appears that the people who are decrying "racism" ard doing what they do best ... trying to create controversy, spread hatred, and fester segregation. To those individuals who are crying "racism" I invite you to do a bit of research and fact-finding, and in your quest for knowledge, you might just learn that as a people we have such a unique mixture of German-Jamaicans, Jewish-Jamaicans, Cuban-Jamaicans .. and the list goes on-and-on, so much so, that the National Motto of Jamaica is "Out of Many ... One People." With that said, on behalf of many of my Jamaican counterparts, I want to say "Thank-You" to VW for the positive message, not just to Jamaicans, but to the world at large, and also for not using the casting Jamaicans in the usual sterotypical way, that the people who are decrying "racism" would rather see us portrayed in. VW .. you have done Jamaica proud. Thank you.

    February 4, 2013 at 10:33 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Stallings

    "This is black face, but with voices" uh, no, BLACK FACE WAS BLACK FACE WITH VOICES. I didn't see any reference to black people in that video, they just used Jamaican accents, which is about a racist as a British actor using an American accent (which is to say it's not racist at all). People need to stop shoehorning "racism" into places that have nothing to do with it. Enjoy the video for what it is: A video showing that you might get a little more enjoyment out of life if you allow yourself to.

    January 31, 2013 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. DJH

    I am a white Jamaican, is it racist for me to speak the way I do? Anyone who thinks that that add is racist for having white people speaking like Jamaicans is either CLUELESS about Jamaica or they are the ones who are RACIST!!!! The motto of Jamaica is Out of many one people because Jamaica is made up of many different races, white, chinese black and we do a pretty good job of living together as one!!!!

    January 31, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Buck Holden

    Thank God we have Charles Blow around to tell us what is Racist! Now I feel guilty that I laughed at the Volkswagen ad depicting some white Minnesotans with Jamaican accents. Being from Minnesota I have never before been so outraged, since Fargo came out. Oh wait, I laughed at that also. And how dare the Jamaican Tourism Board come out and say they really liked the commercial! I have met Jamaicans who are white and speak with a Jamaican accent. Just like America there are many ethnicity's that settled in Jamaica. The Jamaicans realize that the ad depicts a lifestyle envied in our hurry-up stressed out American culture. Maybe that's why so many of us go to Jamaica to get away from it all. Buy a Volkswagen and experience a stress free drive. Sounds good to me! Book another trip to Jamaica, sounds good too! Charles needs to pick his fights so as not to dilute his message on racism when it really needs to be said.

    January 31, 2013 at 11:23 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Bill Cole

    Charles Blow.....I have read your Times columns for several years but for you to see blackface here has me questioning the use of that time now in hindsight. Really – to see this as offensive is a major challenge. To believe that Jamaica has only Black people is downright stupid. Jimmy Cliff, The Harder They Come, go see the 25 year old movie and see white Jamaicans speaking with this accent. Were you offended by George Clooney speaking Hawaiian colloquialisms in The Descendants? You are truly living in a bubble that is out of touch with our mixed race world my friend. Take a long drag on the kouchie, breath it into your lungs and loosen up your sphincter!!

    January 31, 2013 at 8:51 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Karen

    I'm sorry, but are you claiming there arent plenty of white, asians Jamaicans with that accent? A nationality isn't a race. Nice touch only quoting African Americans you racists

    January 31, 2013 at 4:02 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. White Jamaican Yah Suh!

    I think the person that calls this ad racist is actually themself a racist! I am a white Jamaican and yes, I do speak patois (pronounced pat-wah). My dad is white and he speaks worst patois than I do!!! We come in all colours – Out of Many, One People! If you don't like it then too bad. I'm sure us Jamaicans all love it! It's hard for someone who has not grown up speaking with our accent to speak it as well as this guy did in the ad!

    January 30, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. fabiangwilliams

    I have to take the time to comment here. The first thing you must realize is that Jamaica has no Race, you have white, black, indian, chineese, all sorts of ethnic backgrounds that make Jamaica what it is, and here is the kicker, WE ALL SOUND THE SAME. I am proud of it, great Ad by VW, I hope they don't pull it. Let us not take ourselves that seriously, we have other important issues to solve.

    January 30, 2013 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply

    this is a hilarious ad and I am Jamaican. I think the only people who have a problem with this are Black Americans. I live in Kingston,Jamaica and everyone in my office loves it.

    We Jamaicans are NOT offended, and we are a people of all races, white, chinese , Lebanese and Indian. Maybe African-Americans should not decide what Jamaicans find offensive, have you seen the ads for Jamaica on TV??
    Get in your VW drive down to the Travel Agent and book yourself a flight to Jamaica
    !Irie Mon !

    January 30, 2013 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Des Akkari

    Lippert and Blow need to get over themselves....I love how 2 non Jamaicans are so offended by an accent. So what, its an accent. If it was a black with an english accent is that racist too? Soooo stupid...I am black and we are not offended by accents...we are offend by the percentage of blacks in prison.... talk on that and quit making up controversies for us.

    January 30, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. NT

    I am a "white" Jamaican, and I found the VW commercial to be very funny. Living in America almost half my life, I have people coming up to me all the time when they hear me speak and ask me where am I from, and when I tell them Jamaica, their mouths and eyes open wide as though they've seen a ghost. They can't believe it. Trust me, I've gotten use to it. I just laugh at them all the time.

    January 30, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. JAgirl

    Seriously, you were born in Jamaica and yet you have no knowledge of the racial mix in JA. You must not have been raised there. I am Jamaican and we have black, white, and Asian Jamaicans. Blackface with voices?? Get over yourselves. The ad is very funny and positive. As a Jamaican I love this ad and I haven't found a Jamaican who doesn't love it. How about you guys go and find a real racial issue to address because this is definitely not it. Great job VW!!

    January 30, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Allison

    I'm Jamaican-Canadian (i.e., both my parents were born in Jamaica but I was born in Canada), I agree with the other commentators that the "blackface with voices" is ridiculous. In fact, seeing as though my grandmother is white Jamaican, I find the comment ignorant.

    Aside from that, what I really can't understand is why Americans are so concerned over this commercial? Seeing as though the majority of Jamaican's aren't taking any offence to it, why should this be featured on CNN?

    At any rate, while the accent wasn't perfect, I do NOT agree with Mr. Farley that it was Jar Jar Bink-ish. Honestly, I think it is one of the better done imitations, but just off enough to make it hilarious.

    January 30, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  16. islander

    I'm Jamaican and I LOVE the ad! We have white, chinese, indians, blacks, and many more in our a white man with a Jamaican accent is not foreign to us.

    January 30, 2013 at 11:16 am | Report abuse | Reply
  17. ddaug4uf

    There is no way anyone finds this offensive. That said, those defending the Jamaican cultural diversity are misissing the point. The guy is not Jamaican, he is from Minnesota. I am sure the accent evolved when they were scripting the end and trying to figure out how to make it obvious that the outlook and attitude of the other people in the car was changed by the ride in the VW. A Jamaican accent is one of the easiest ways to associate a person with lightheartedness and whimsy. To this day, one of the most memorable commercials for me is a non-Super Bowl "Not going anywhere for a while" Snickers commercial with the Jamaican guy on the bicycle behind one car at a traffic light... "Awww man, eets total greedlock!"

    January 30, 2013 at 8:17 am | Report abuse | Reply
  18. D Fung

    There was some good discussion among the panel, but I wasn't crazy about the commercial and I think they missed the source of the problem. Substitute another accent, and the commercial completely changes flavor. Yes, I understand that we don't stereotype Germans as mellow, but substitute a Scandinavian or Canadian accent and the flavor of the commercial completely changes. If the actors were mostly black, the Jamaican accent isn't funny anymore either. The reason that this commercial is funny is ONLY because of the association of that accent with black Jamaicans who would be out of place in a mostly-white business setting. And this is why the commercial seems racist – it's playing on racial stereotypes and expectations of their places in society.

    One of the panel commented that if an ethnic group is not portrayed negatively, then it's not racist. I think that's a pretty low bar to measure cultural sensitivity by, and there's no question in my mind how VW and the ad agency were trying to play this. Thumbs down.

    January 29, 2013 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  19. JJ1982

    Blackface with voices? Get over yourself. There are white people that speak with a Jamaican accent. It's not racist, just wasn't a very funny commercial. The people always focused on race non-issues like this are the ones keeping racism alive.

    January 29, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Minnesota Guy

      Couldn't agree more. I chuckled mildly but it wasn't all that great of a commercial. Watched an idiotic discussion of this on the Today show. I took far more offense at the broad swipe at "Stern Minnesotans" by one of those participating in the discussion than I did anythng VW put on tape. Kudos to Matt Lauer for adding a dose of "get real" to it all. Let's hope the E-Trade kid has some smart stuff to share during th Super Bowl..

      January 29, 2013 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cee

      Preach. I found it hilarious but you are 100 percent right. Always trying to make EVERYTHING abt race. There are so many white Jamaicans out there.

      January 30, 2013 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joanne Budney

      Get over yourself is correct. I'm Jamaican and I am white. They sound and look like a lot of my friends. VW great job. I was thinking about a "Jag" .. now I'm going to look at the beetle ....

      January 31, 2013 at 11:01 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • HT94

      you stole me comment, well said.

      February 4, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • sloppyj30

      Even if Jamaica were 100% black, it's still a ridiculous thing to find offensive. I'm a doughy white guy with a receding hairline, and I can't imagine being upset if somone from another country imitated my accent to humorous effect. I'd actually like to hear that.

      February 5, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  20. P Siegel

    Anyone that is offended by this ad really needs to re-examine their motives and agendas. Mr. Blow is entirely too sensitive. I wonder if he has the same issue when white people rap or use phrases from black culture? It is people like Mr. Blow that ensure racism will stay alive and well in America. By trying to find racism where there is none. Mr. Blow only causes problems. Mr. Blow – get a clue.

    January 29, 2013 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Scott

    Leave it to somebody who isn't Jamaican to be offended by this commercial. People are way too sensitive.

    January 29, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jammlove

      No offense... it was cute and once again puts Jamaica on the map... but there a plently of white jamaicains chinese janaicans, etc that could play the role with authenticity. Just check out youtube.. it's not to late to redo the ad with real Jamiacans. No racsim and no offense here– just opening the world to cultral awarness–with a smile.

      January 30, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
      • Jammlove

        and yes... I am a Jamcain that proudly drives a VW and loves it!!

        January 30, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Stephen Dorsey

    It's amazing that some in the public at large and others in the media are saying this ad is someone racist because of the white actor speaking in a Jamaican accent. Has any of the commentators ever been to Jamaica? Jamaica has a significant population of white Jamaicans who speak exactly with that accent. And for that matter, their are Chinese Jamaican's "Mista Chin"" brown Jamaican, black Jamaicans, and mixes in between. The ad is funny. Period. Get over yourselves.

    January 29, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Randymon

    To spend even a nano-second on this – oh, wait I just did – is just ludicrous. It is a funny commercial, it is upbeat and clever. It made me smile. Would we even care if it was another accent? Jamaica is a wondrous island with a fantastic culture and people. We should all be chanting "No Problem, Mon!"

    January 29, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Nadine Hill

    Love the commercial... just love it.. I am Jamaican and its really cool to watch people depict our accent....People are crazy to think its racist... You really dont need money to be happy and JAMAICANS are one of the happiest set of people in the WORLD.. I love JAMAICA

    January 29, 2013 at 11:29 am | Report abuse | Reply
  25. N.H.

    Really? I think the VW commercial is happy and fun. Why make it seem racist? I am sure white people live in Jamaica with this same accent.

    January 29, 2013 at 10:39 am | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Kenny

    HILARIOUS!!! Makes me smile! And one more thing......If you find this racist then your just looking to be offended. Get over it! Nothing offensive here.

    January 29, 2013 at 10:08 am | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Michael

    News flash, they are white Jamaicans.

    January 29, 2013 at 9:23 am | Report abuse | Reply
  28. wtf

    How is this possibly offensive to anyone on earth!?!?!

    If the guy had a British accent, would it be offensive?
    If the guy had a German accent, would it be offensive?
    If the guy had a Indian accent, would it be offensive?

    That a Jamaican accent being associated with happy feelings
    could offend anyone blows my mind.

    I suspect CNN is just trying to create controversy where NONE EXISTS.

    January 29, 2013 at 9:06 am | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Bolo (Jamaican)

    You would be hard pressed to find one Jamaican that would be offended by this commercial. Our great sense of humor relishes the flattery of the attempted imitation. While the accents aren't perfect, they are just off enough to make this ad hilarious. RESPECT VW! Nice One.

    January 28, 2013 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • margelle

      It seems all the Jamaicans "get it". EVERY JAMAICAN I HAVE POLLED, LOVES THE AD. The guy is not saying he IS Jamaican - he is a Jamaican wannabe - surely this is a compliment to Jamaicans. He admits he is from Minnesota so his accent doesn't have to be 100% perfect!. The message is that he is adopting the Jamaican happy-go-lucky attitude and recommends it to his fellow workers. The bottom line is being Jamaican is POSITIVE, and for those who were not lucky enough to be born Jamaican, the next best thing is to drive a Volkswagen.

      February 2, 2013 at 9:56 am | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Watchman80

    Messers Blow and Varley, looking at Jamaican social media today about 80-90% of Jamaicans (including myself) find this ad pretty funny. The rest probably think they should have been paid what ever the voice coach got because he did not really earn his money here!

    More serious is the "like blackface with voices" crack from Mr Blow. I wonder if he has ever been to Jamaica? Perhaps he might like to look up our national motto (Out of Many, One People)? Or to consider the hugely diverse mixture of peoples who are Jamaicans, including our National Heroes? Even assuming Mr Blow began the day totally ignorant about Jamaica, seconds on a search engine is all that is needed to prevent himself from making crass remarks.

    Using pejorative comparisons from a position of idle ignorance does not do Mr Blow, the New York Times or CNN much credit. I have Caucasian, Chinese, Indian etc etc entirely Jamaican friends who speak in a pure Jamaican accent. Are all of them putting on "blackface"?

    Good job VW. Try harder Mr Blow.

    January 28, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Des Akkari

      tell 'em....thank you for setting it straight.

      January 30, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  31. W. Williams

    As a jamaican I love this ad, always look on the brighter side of life. Soledad made the comment that this is a white guy with a jamaican accent, note that there a native white jamaicans, chinese jamaicans, jamaican from east indian decents, jewish decent, etc, hence the national motto "out of many one people.

    January 28, 2013 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  32. HLVTCO

    so VW spoke to a BINDER FULL OF JAMAICANS?? Ya right. Thank the lord someone Caribbean & from Jamaica was there to challenge VW on this one. And I'm surprised Soledad was siding w/ VW here. This is a cultural gaffe. If it's not going to be authentic, don't bother @ all. Mr Farley was being diplomatic, believe me – but he knew as a Jamaican, this didn't pass the smell test. I wish this segment would have gone on for longer. Either way, I'm writing VW a letter about this one. They need to re shoot it, and drag it to the trash bin.

    January 28, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • ForThePeople

      No one asked me when Hugh Jackman played in X-Men w/ and american accent if it sounded authentic. So if VW spoke w/ one Jamaican or every Jamaican on the plant what does it matter. Was the point to sound exactly like a person born and raised in Jamaica? Its just commercial, not a plea to in-act a new law into the American constitution! If you are soooo blind as to see the humor in this commercial I think you should be writing a letter a local psychiatric!! Then take a trip to Jamaica.

      January 29, 2013 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply

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