In case you missed the ad, here it is:
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, chief Latino marketing strategist at Walton Isaacson said, "What happens in this ad is that the culture becomes a punch line, and that is offensive."
Ricki Fairley-Brown, president of Dove Marketing said, "It's pretty horrific. Why do they have a white guy from Minnesota faking a Jamaican accent?"
And possibly the worst accusation of all came from New York Times columnist Charles Blow, who said that the ad is “like blackface with voices.”
Interestingly, however, Jamaicans themselves seemed to publicly embrace the ad.
The Jamaica Tourism Board was pleased to be receiving free publicity, and officials even put together a limited-time "Get Happy in Jamaica” savings package in response. Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill said in a statement, "I urge persons all across the globe to do exactly what the commercial portrays, which is to tap into your inner Jamaican and get happy!"
Jamaican reggae star Sean Paul also stood up for the ad, saying, “It’s just entertainment. To me it’s no different than the Italian accents in ‘The Sopranos’ or the English accent in Guy Ritchie’s movies.”
Finally, Dr Claire Nelson, the Jamaican-born president of the Institute of Caribbean Studies and Caribbean Heritage Organization, said that she and her colleagues were flattered by the ad: "In one fell swoop, the ad directors have superimposed Jamaicans' reputation for being hardworking as well as for having a laid-back, positive disposition.”
Personally, I don’t see the ad as being “racist.” For one thing, Jamaican is a nationality, not a race, and theoretically any one of the actors in the commercial could be a native Jamaican. In fact, the Jamaican national motto is "Out of Many One People."
I suppose one could argue that the ad is offensive in other ways. It does, after all, promote a single stereotype about an entire culture (although “happy-go-lucky” is not a bad stereotype to have, in my opinion). Perhaps whether or not you view the ad as offensive comes down to your opinion on positive stereotypes.
At the end of the day, I'm not Jamaican, I don't know any Jamaicans personally, and I haven't been to Jamaica, so I really don’t think it’s my place to decide whether or not the ad is offensive. I think it’s up to Jamaicans themselves to decide, and the resounding answer seems to be that it’s not. It seems that Volkswagen has done a great job of pushing the envelope just far enough to create controversy and get people talking about their brand, while keeping it harmless enough to stay out of serious trouble. In my opinion, the ad isn't quite as outstanding as what they’ve done for Super Bowls of the past (nothing beats "The Force" in 2011), but I don’t find it racist either. Especially since Jamaicans themselves seem to love it.