VW radio advert banned after consumer complains it was homophobic and promoted toxic masculinity

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Published Apr 11, 2023


Durban - The Advertising Regulatory Board has banned an advert by Volkswagen, citing it as discriminatory and offensive.

Consumer Joy Sixholo took her complaint to the Directorate of the Advertising Regulatory Board complaining that the advert had homophobic undertones and promoted toxic masculinity.

The radio commercial voice-over says: “It’s 1am and you’re stuck somewhere in the Karoo. You don’t have food and it’s cold. But you do have your colleague Andile. And you remember that whole body warmth tip. So, who’s the little spoon? Andile’s 6-foot- two, and you, Themba, half the size. Snuggle up! It’s going to be a long night. Next time, use Volkswagen Genuine Parts with a two-year warranty so you won’t end up in parts unknown, playing the part of the little spoon.”

In her complaint, the consumer said there is nothing wrong with two men cuddling, but the advert suggested so.

“They could have used many other scenarios to describe the inconvenience and incompatibility without using two men snuggling. In fact, snuggling is a normal, healthy act in homosexual relationships.”

The complainant said adverts such as these have the potential to “perpetuate stereotypes against vulnerable groups, and should not be tolerated, especially in the violent society we live in.”

However, Volkswagen denied any wrongdoing.

The retail giant argued that the point of the advert was to “amuse the listeners.”

They further argued that “no reasonable person” would take the content of the advertisement literally.

“The prospect of cuddling a colleague is a humorous situation, considering people prefer personal space over anything else, especially between professionals in a post-Covid environment,” it said.

VW said the brand supports “all forms of inclusivity and diversity through its communication.”

In its ruling at the end of March, the Directorate said this advert was akin to locker-room humour.

“Creating scenarios like the one featured in this commercial smack of the locker-room humour that sees snuggling between men as something unpleasant that should be avoided. This subtle negativity around male-on-male affection or proximity has elements of both homophobia and toxic masculinity,” it said.

In addition, the directorate said the advertiser’s argument that it was to amuse the listeners, was a strong example of everyday homophobia that is often overlooked or seen as justified.

The advert is currently not being flighted and VW was ordered to not flight the advert in its current format in future.