A no-nonsense woman interrupted a wedding ceremony. She marched up to the bride who was about to take her vows, yanked the bride’s nose and ears, grabbed her jaw and peered into her mouth, much like inspecting a cow for purchase.
Before giving the look of approval, the older woman eyed the bride’s cleavage, which caused the younger woman to cover up her breasts instantly. At the end of the “inspection,” an Audi cruises along with a male voiceover stating, “Important decisions must be made carefully. Only with official certification can you be rest assured.”
The older woman is presumably the groom’s mother, the setting, a commercial for secondhand Audis in China.
The commercial had been airing in movie theatres and online for a few months, but the online firestorm started only on July 18. That day, nearly half a million people mentioned “Audi second hand car" on WeChat. By mid-day July 20, more than 300,000 Weibo users had checked on “Audi second-hand car ad.”
The Chinese netizens did not hold back on their opinions of the commercial, calling it "trashy," "discriminatory," "sexist" and “just plain dumb.” One Weibo user quipped, "This is really low taste. Isn't this like what people do when trading cattle?"
Another questioned Audi’s inconsistent messaging, "Audi in China regards women as secondhand cars … But Audi in the U.S. (Super Bowl commercial) encourages women to believe in themselves, to realize their potential and to get the same pay as men."
Some even called for a boycott of Audi. Perhaps the most stinging comment came from a Shanghai-based lifestyle editor who said, "So many powerful women in China are also potential customers for Audi, and this is how Audi is sending its message to buyers?"
To be fair, not all comments had been negative. A handful mentioned that people needed to lighten up and learn how to take a joke!
Auto manufacturers have been eyeing Chinese consumers’ growing wealth. China is one of the world’s best-selling luxury car markets.
It may be “Summer of Audi” in the U.S.; however, 2017 is proving to be quite trying for Audi in China. In February, Bloomberg reported that Audi deliveries to China plunged 35 percent from a year earlier, probably stemming from a dispute with its dealers. By July, its sales are down 12.2 percent from the previous year, although it is still the leading luxury car brand in China, with more than 4 million users. This commercial is not what the company needs.
According to Audi’s head of corporate communication in China, the 30-second spot was produced for the local joint venture partner FAW–Audi and created by Ogilvy & Mather Beijing to promote used Audis that have been checked out and officially certified for resale. It was part of the “know what you’re getting” campaign. Apparently, Audi did not know what it was getting into with that commercial!
Audi put out a statement to the effect that the perception created by the commercial "does not correspond to the values of our company in any way," adding it was launching an investigation to ensure the mistake will not happen again. The commercial has been withdrawn and as of end-July, the account had moved to Leo Burnett Beijing.
Audi, of course, is not the only offender in the “tasteless ads” field. Earlier this year, the leading Chinese coconut juice brand released an ad promising the beverage would help lighten a woman's skin and enlarge her breasts. And there was the Chinese laundry detergent commercial from last year where a paint-splattered black man was shoved into a washing machine loaded with the laundry detergent for a full cycle and emerged as a lighter-skinned Chinese!
Of course, dumb commercials are not just made by multinational companies either. In 2014, a Chinese online dating site used a dying grandmother storyline to shame young single women into being less picky in finding a husband. In a land where there’s a lot of pressure on Chinese women to get married so as not be considered “leftover” material, outrage on social media was fierce.
If the effectiveness of an ad or commercial is measured by consumer recall, then the Audi, laundry detergent and online dating commercials may be dumb, but successful?