If you were busy watching the Puppy Bowl on Sunday night (or doing something more productive than sitting in front of a screen), you may have missed Audi’s controversial commercial that advocates for equal pay. I don’t really think equal pay and controversial belong in the same sentence, but the ad did spark contentious debate after striking a nerve with a lot of viewers.
While most advertisements are created with the chief intent of getting consumers to remember and purchase a product or service, Audi’s ad is memorable because it also pushes a social agenda by highlighting the gender wage gap. Moreover, it was designed to call attention to the issue during one of the most-viewed TV events of the year.
In the commercial, a father, who’s watching his daughter compete against boys in a soap box derby, wonders, “What do I tell my daughter? Do I tell her that her grandpa is worth more than her grandma? That her dad is worth more than her mom? Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets? Or maybe, I’ll be able to tell her something different.”
The ad concludes with an on-screen message: “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work.”
The Wall Street Journal points out that “brands that delve into social or political issues [in Super Bowl commercials] know there are risks of alienating certain segments of their customer base.”
Indeed, Audi seems to have offended thousands of potential customers. Before the start of the weekend (let alone the Super Bowl itself), the ad - which was released last Wednesday - had already garnered millions of views and thousands of comments. The majority of the comments were negative, and by Friday afternoon, nearly 40,000 YouTube users had given the commercial a “thumbs down,” as opposed to roughly 5,700 who marked it with a “thumbs up.”
Why are people so angry about Audi’s message? Based on the comments, some seem to think “it’s anti-male propaganda” or “political propaganda.”
Others took issue with the fact that the ad highlights gender inequality in America while women in other parts of the world are worse off (as if this means the gender wage gap in the U.S. is a non-issue). Refinery 29 reports that one commenter wrote, "Can we start a petition to send these women to Saudi Arabia so they can experience true female oppression?”
Another viewer suggested, “Tell your daughter to find a real man to marry, and to avoid the mistake that her mother made. Tell her to buy a Dodge.” Helpful advice, right?
Some have critiqued the ad for turning what could have been a message about female empowerment into one that portrays girls as victims. But to me, acknowledging an injustice doesn’t serve to further victimize a marginalized group; rather, it’s a crucial step in achieving equality.
And Audi’s intent - it seems to me - is to do just that. “Women are still paid 21% less than men. As a brand that believes in progress, we are committed to equal pay for equal work,” Audi posted on Twitter with a link to the ad.
By spreading awareness about the ever-persistent gender pay gap and announcing its commitment to shrinking that gap, Audi is sending a message not only to consumers, but also to other employers that they too have the opportunity to step up and similarly promote equality.
Like Audi, Fairygodboss is on a mission to facilitate dialogue and transparency on issues like equal pay. While one of our goals is to help women figure out if they’re being treated fairly by providing a salary database and maternity leave resource center, another objective of ours is to inspire companies to improve their policies to be more equitable, accommodating, and inclusive.
So while Audi may have alienated some with its message of equality, we’re glad the company underscored the importance of this very real issue plaguing the American workforce, and we know that they’ve won the hearts of many. In fact, one of my friends - who encouraged her network to “like” the commercial on YouTube and to respond to it positively on other social channels - declared on Facebook, “my first car will be an Audi.”
Fairygodboss is committed to improving the workplace and lives of women.