C’mon Volkswagen

by Eszter Hargittai on February 3, 2014

The VW Super Bowl ad features German engineers. The story goes as such: every time a VW reaches 100,000 miles, one of the engineers in Germany gets “his wings”. I didn’t find the ad particularly interesting until I realized that none of the engineers getting wings were women. In fact, there were barely any women in the video. Most prominent was the one in the elevator getting slapped by a male engineer’s wings.

There were ten male engineers featured who clearly got wings. It looks like 13% of engineers in Germany are female. So even going just by that statistic, one of the 10 featured should have been a woman.

The agency responsible for the ad is San Francisco’s Argonaut. Who are they? It looks like they are a bunch of guys. That’s no excuse for the approach to women in the ad, but perhaps it explains it a bit.

{ 66 comments }

1

LizardBreath 02.03.14 at 2:18 pm

Glad to see I wasn’t the only one to notice. I might not have without the woman in the elevator — the total absence of women is a little easier to ignore than their pointed presence as not-engineers.

2

Dr.S 02.03.14 at 2:41 pm

But the hero of the piece is the teenage daughter who’s way more savvy than her lame father

3

QS 02.03.14 at 2:52 pm

Women consume what men produce, duh!

4

MPAVictoria 02.03.14 at 2:55 pm

Sigh… I actually know a woman who now works as an engineer for Volkswagen. We met in University. Oh the memories….

5

LizardBreath 02.03.14 at 4:08 pm

But the hero of the piece is the teenage daughter who’s way more savvy than her lame father

Sure — she’s savvy in that she doesn’t value or believe his fantastic story about the wonderfulness of German engineering. She may be clever, but she’s distinctly positioned as another anti-engineer.

6

Alexander Halavais 02.03.14 at 4:22 pm

Your point is well taken, though I wonder how many engineers would have had to get wings to represent the 13% of engineers. I guess one or two? The establishing shot has 1 of the 6 surrounding the car, which is pretty close–though no wings.

I guess the other side of this is that Victoria’s Secret has largely dominated the mindshare around “angels-winged women.” I wonder, had any of the women sprouted wings, if this would have jumped to anyone else’s mind, or just mine.

Finally, if the metaphor is complete, are they still “men” when they become angels, or do they become hermaphrodites?

7

Robert Halford 02.03.14 at 4:31 pm

Original campaign of “every time a VW reaches 100,000 miles an engineer gets his double lightning bolts” rejected as too controversial.

8

hix 02.03.14 at 4:35 pm

Engineer # car engineer, where the male bias is even stronger. All male (and German* on top, seeems pretty realistic). Its a guy thing, fast expensive cars as status symbols. Working from the potential customers perspective, all male makes perfect sense too.

*All high ranking engineers at Skoda are short term German expats. Big mess that.

9

Steve LaBonne 02.03.14 at 4:51 pm

Aside from the sexism, do they really think it’s good advertising to suggest that they believe reaching 100,000 miles is a big deal? Hell, Hondas and Toyotas are just getting broken in at that mileage.

10

Matt 02.03.14 at 4:56 pm

do they really think it’s good advertising to suggest that they believe reaching 100,000 miles is a big deal?

A few years ago I was looking to buy a used car. There were a lot of WVs w/ about 80K miles available for good prices. They still drove nicely for the most part, but from investigating a bit it seemed that the warranty ended at 80K, and that lots of service problems started about then, so people tended to unload them around that time.

11

MPAVictoria 02.03.14 at 5:01 pm

“A few years ago I was looking to buy a used car. There were a lot of WVs w/ about 80K miles available for good prices. They still drove nicely for the most part, but from investigating a bit it seemed that the warranty ended at 80K, and that lots of service problems started about then, so people tended to unload them around that time.”

Bingo. Anyone who has managed to drag a VW over the 100k mark deserves a medal.

12

QB 02.03.14 at 5:06 pm

Argonaut responds to the they-are-an-all-male-ad-agency thing on Twitter: https://twitter.com/WeAreArgonaut/status/430219106584121344.

13

Eszter Hargittai 02.03.14 at 5:24 pm

Thanks, QB. Why haven’t they updated their Web site? Is it supposed to be more appealing to potential clients that they’re a small group of guys?

14

LizardBreath 02.03.14 at 5:30 pm

None of the women are senior enough that they merit a bio on the website, and the picture on the website is just those members of upper management who get bios? That’s what it looks like. Or they could just be slow to update the website.

15

krippendorf 02.03.14 at 5:51 pm

@Hix: “Working from the potential customers perspective, all male makes perfect sense too. “

What a bunch of horseshit. Women don’t buy, or share in buying decision, about cars? And, is there any evidence whatsoever that mens’ thought process is so shallow that they will say, “well, I was thinking about buying a VW, but I saw this ad in the Superbowl that had a woman engineer who turned into an angel and then a rainbow shot out of her ass. I’m OK with men engineers who have wings and fart rainbows, but not women, so I guess I’ll buy a Chrysler instead.”

I admit that I laughed at the scene with the two “angels” at the urinals. That wouldn’t have worked with women engineers.

16

P O'Neill 02.03.14 at 5:55 pm

It’s not just the ad company. The NFL surely looks at all the ads for messaging. It can’t be a coincidence that just when there was a crescendo late last year about the idiocy and demeaning content of the typical Sunday afternoon ad package, the bikinis and beer bottles content during ad breaks started to ease off, leading into what we were all told was the more uplifting and tasteful selection yesterday. I doubt every marketer came up with that change all by their lonesome. Yet no one was checking for obvious things such as noted in the OP.

17

Plume 02.03.14 at 6:01 pm

Germany is light years ahead of us on pay, labor representation (they sit on corporate boards) and benefits (like health care and free college). But apparently they don’t do so well on gender issues. Nor do we.

I really liked the Maserati commercial, as far as commercials go. The actress, Quvenzhane Wallis, who was amazing in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” narrates it into another dimension. Like pretty much every commercial, it lacked “substance.” But its surface “art” was top notch. She’s a wonder.

18

Crickets Chirpping 02.03.14 at 6:13 pm

“But apparently they don’t do so well on gender issues. Nor do we. “

Everyone is below average on this issue? I don’t think an engineer would think that way.

It has been a while since the board has revisited why women are underpresented in STEM and philosophy. Perhaps I should write one, I can discuss why Israeli biotech is dominated by women. I can probably write 15 paragraphs on this topic without mentioning the occupation once, just for Corey’s benefit too!

19

Plume 02.03.14 at 6:50 pm

Germany and America equate to “everyone”? I don’t think an engineer would think that way.

20

Trader Joe 02.03.14 at 6:56 pm

Yeah and that Budwiser commercial with the dog and the Clydesdales – where were the goats. Why weren’t goats represented. Goats live on farms too. And the Transformer movie trailer – where were they pyterodactls – flying dinosaurs are dinosaurs too. Don’t even get me started on Bob Dylan’s sellout video for Chrysler – there wasn’t a single Hispanic person in it and there probably should have been some LGBT too…didn’t everyone pay to bailout Chrysler?

Can’t commercials just be commercials without having to represent every possible interest group?

21

LizardBreath 02.03.14 at 7:01 pm

You misspelled pterodactyl. And they’re not dinosaurs.

22

Crickets Chirpping 02.03.14 at 7:01 pm

“Germany is light years ahead of us on pay … But apparently they don’t do so well on gender issues. Nor do we”

Sorry, you are comparing how two countries compare … Germany better than the US on X, Y and Z. Then you switch to gender issues, where you conclude Germany doesn’t do as well as the US, but then add the kicker that the US doesn’t do well either. So is that a tie?

Or are you politically incapable of saying the US does better than another country on any subject except incarceration?

23

Trader Joe 02.03.14 at 7:05 pm

@21
I stand corrected on pterodactyls as to both spelling and their proper genus. Clearly it would have been ridiculous as including woolly mammoths to include them in the Transformer trailer.

24

MPAVictoria 02.03.14 at 7:08 pm

Not actually a defense of Volkswagen but I believe there may be a woman engineer in the commercial. See second 14. There is one woman standing in a group of 6. Though of course all the people they show getting wings are male so I guess they are the only confirmed engineers.

“Yeah and that Budwiser commercial with the dog and the Clydesdales – where were the goats. Why weren’t goats represented. Goats live on farms too. And the Transformer movie trailer – where were they pyterodactls – flying dinosaurs are dinosaurs too. Don’t even get me started on Bob Dylan’s sellout video for Chrysler – there wasn’t a single Hispanic person in it and there probably should have been some LGBT too…didn’t everyone pay to bailout Chrysler?

Can’t commercials just be commercials without having to represent every possible interest group?”

In response to this comment I am going to post my favorite Pete Seeger performance:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgzl1Sai4Y0

You are welcome.

25

Plume 02.03.14 at 7:23 pm

I didn’t say Germany is worse on that issue than we are. Clearly. It’s not there in the text, nor do I believe they’re worse than we are on gender issues.

26

Omega Centauri 02.03.14 at 7:29 pm

Its probably just that the typical “engineer” is the stereotype male engineer. So they made up ten stereoype clones. As an engineer, I thought they mostly looked like production workers, not actual engineers……

27

hix 02.03.14 at 7:40 pm

Well, a passat diesel is sure more durable than anything a Detroit producer or even the Japanese offer in the US. The infamous consumer report is not much more objective than the ADAC, just with a different bias. VW really has a problem in the US when they even have to fight for a positive durability perception. That would be well deserved. The signifcant premium they can charge compared to Honda or Toyota in the rest of the world is a different story. Lets see how the mqb works out. If it works as planned, VW can sell cars at a price point below Toyota and still make more money.

28

MPAVictoria 02.03.14 at 7:43 pm

“Well, a passat diesel is sure more durable than anything a Detroit producer or even the Japanese offer in the US.”

I could not disgree with this more. Of course we are basically just comparing anecdotes but everyone I know who has purchased a VW product has lived to regret it.

29

The Temporary Name 02.03.14 at 8:09 pm

The infamous consumer report is not much more objective than the ADAC

Yes it is.

30

hix 02.03.14 at 8:20 pm

Im aware the ADAC outright faked the numbers in that popularity contest. In general, all VW brands do ridiculous good in ADAC tests. That has been a running joke before the scandal broke. The problem with consumer report is that they do count every complaint after purchase as if it were the same thing. Sometimes those are just usability issues where plan oriented German culture clashes with US expectations for easy usability without reading the manual.

31

MPAVictoria 02.03.14 at 8:40 pm

Interesting take on VW reliability:
“What we have discovered after studying the long-term reliability of trade-ins throughout the United States, is that VW represents the slimey brown stuff above this engine (courtesy of VWVortex.com) when it comes to long-term reliability.

For starters, major VW brands in the USA (Audi and VW) have garnered the 2nd and 3rd lowest ratios for those vehicles that have made it to the 18 year mark. Click here for the results of 300,000+ vehicles currently logged in this study.

Volkswagen also has the lowest percentage of trade-ins with over 180k out of any major automaker in the study as well.

Who is worse out of 30+ brands? Only Jaguar and Mini are worse overall. Land Rover is roughly equal.

Finally, let me offer you an alternative shortcut if you don’t want to believe the data. Feel free to visit car-part.com and see how much it cost to replace various VW engines and transmissions. Call your neighborhood parts store and see how much more it cost to replace the hoses, alternators, and starters on a VW versus say, a Chevy or Toyota.

Hell, I recently bought a 2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 with no issues for only $100 more than a stripper 2005 Ford Taurus with the same mileage that functioned as a rental car special, and had vinyl falling off the front door panels.

How did VW’s get to be so cheap in the wholesale side of the car business?

Because for most of the last 15 years, VW has cheaped out on quality parts like a broke Chinese construction company cheaps out on quality concrete. The mothership may blame Inaki Lopez and his minions for that turn in quality. But the truth? The absolute truth?

VW doesn’t care. They have screwed their consumer base for the sole pursuit of short-term profits here in North America for a very long time and are finally, by the grace of God, paying for those sins. Their cheaped out latest offerings in the United States continue to do them no favors, and I’m willing to bet that the “We’re #1 at over 100k!” remark will not resonate in a marketplace where 200k has already become yesterday’s 100k.”

http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/hammer-time-fharverg-nuttin/#more-731802

32

Substance McGravitas 02.03.14 at 8:42 pm

The problem with consumer report

So a possible problem with rating method – maybe it isn’t one! – equals a bias. So just as the German testers take bribes from German manufacturers, the American publication doesn’t take bribes from the Japanese. Also Americans don’t own their cars properly.

From ADAC – pre-scandal I think – VW seems above average, therefore kinda crappy. Except in one class where the EOS is worst.

33

Erik 02.03.14 at 9:09 pm

On top of that, the ad has a dick size joke. Awesome. All those women just have engineer wing envy.

34

oldster 02.03.14 at 9:13 pm

Halford’s #7 got a laugh from me.

35

Erik 02.03.14 at 9:23 pm

To clarify a bit if you didn’t see the ad – at one point two engineers are standing side by side at the urinals, and one schlubby enginner looks at the others’ larger wings with a look of envy. So not only is every engineer male, but the “wings” are explicitly compared to dicks.

36

Dan Nexon 02.03.14 at 10:16 pm

The commercial was obviously sexist. Now I’m going to rant about VW.

VW has largely ignored the US market, skimped on the quality of parts, and, on top of that, has lousy customer service. I still remember the exchange I had after the moon-roof drains in our VW jammed, which ended with my asking the rep if he understood the meaning of “catch 22.” Of course, like a good more than half of the issues we dealt with, we eventually received notice of class-action settlement related to it.

That being said, their cars (other, than, say the current-model Jetta) are so much more fun to drive than Hondas or Toyotas that I’ve been willing to take it for the 12 years we’ve owned our 1.8t. Most of the problems we’ve had happened in the first few years of ownership (and they were extensive: door mechanisms breaking, ignition-coils failing, clutch turning out to be defective…. ). After that it hasn’t perform that much worse than our old civic did for comparable wear-and-tear.

Not sure I can do it again, though. Those first few years really, really stank.

37

Main Street Muse 02.03.14 at 10:59 pm

I thought it was hilarious that they were associating VW engineering (which in our experience has not been that great) with “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

38

hix 02.03.14 at 11:02 pm

Hum, Diesel are in general more reliable than gas cars and the Detroit/Japanese makers dont sell Diesel on the US market? I figured the part about the Diesel Passat was pretty uncontroversial and also the basis for the claim at the end of the add. Its cheating of course. Overall Toyota usually does best in reliability ratings. Still VW doesnt do nearly as bad in e.g. the Tüv report as one would think from US and just US comments. Rather they are more in the upper 20%. The Tüv ranking seems pretty good to me, at least not as obviously flawed as consumer report or ADAC road breakdown statistics.

39

Eszter Hargittai 02.03.14 at 11:14 pm

Crickets Chirpping – You should know by now that mentioning Israel in whatever context is all he needs to go off on one of his rants.

For the record, I did not say in the OP that there were no women engineers in the ad. I said that among the ten prominently featured as getting wings, none were women.

As to some other comments, as usual, I ask that you not feed the trolls.

40

Dan Nexon 02.03.14 at 11:34 pm

My daughter points out that it appears that one woman get her wings at :39. Still, not much of an equity thing.

41

LizardBreath 02.03.14 at 11:40 pm

She thinks one of the whitecoats seen from a distance in the crowd scene for a second is a woman? Not impossible, but I’m not seeing it.

42

bx1969 02.04.14 at 12:02 am

Golf clap for the lame troll from Halford… unfortunately some people’s prejudice is no better than the ad’s sexism… thanks for the nostalgia for the intellectual level of my preteen years…

43

Plume 02.04.14 at 12:12 am

Eszter Hargittai #39,

Was this directed at me?

Crickets Chirpping – You should know by now that mentioning Israel in whatever context is all he needs to go off on one of his rants.

Crickets Chirpping, at #18, responded to my post at #17, which was hardly a rant, and never mentioned Israel. Nor have I mentioned Israel in any post in this thread, until now. Nor was I even thinking about it, until you brought it up.

Crickets Chirpping obviously misread what I said about Germany and America, and I corrected him/her. There was no “rant” involved.

Apologies if you’re referring to another poster, but I don’t see CC trying to exchange thoughts with anyone else. Just moi.

44

Eszter Hargittai 02.04.14 at 12:41 am

Plume, I am very confused by your note. It had nothing to do with you or your comments on this thread (unless you go by a very different name as well). See CC’s full comment in #18 (note last line).

45

Plume 02.04.14 at 1:05 am

Eszter,

Apologies. I misread.

I guess I’m overly sensitive and a bit jumpy these days and probably should take a break from all forums. I need to go back to work on my book, anyway.

Thank you for responding. It really helped. Hope all is well.

46

Eszter Hargittai 02.04.14 at 1:20 am

40 & 41 – I was referring to the engineers who were featured as getting wings in the OP. Also, I froze the video at :40 and I still can’t find a woman even in a distance getting wings.

47

SoU 02.04.14 at 4:16 am

Plume @42

the comment was not directed at you (but i can see how you were confused) – it was a snipe at corey robin

48

Helen 02.04.14 at 5:28 am

A coroner’s report seems to have cleared VW from this, but I would still be wary of buying one after multiple reports.

http://www.smh.com.au/national/drivers-report-sudden-loss-of-power-after-inquest-into-womans-death-20130531-2nha7.html

49

Meredith 02.04.14 at 6:32 am

Watching the ad in real time (more interested in the game than the ads), I thought it fell totally flat, not even noticing the absence of female engineers. Maybe it fell flat because of that absence, that is, because of the lack of energy in an ad coming out of such emptiness.

I think I first commented at CT about biscuits and scones. Belle has celebrated her father’s bread. Bread is quite an engineering feat, might I note.

50

Aaran 02.04.14 at 1:31 pm

In the real world all those German engineers would be using metric.

51

Vanya 02.04.14 at 4:36 pm

Germany is light years ahead of us on pay, labor representation (they sit on corporate boards) and benefits (like health care and free college).

Except that most large German companies now use “temp” companies so that they can hire workers without providing those benefits. The university system is a mess, and German universities have very little international prestige compared to universities in the English speaking world (US, UK, Canada) or even Dutch or Swiss universities. Not to say that America is better, simply that Germany is also not what it was in the 1970s.

52

TM 02.04.14 at 4:54 pm

I bought my Honda 7 years ago at 140,000 miles and it’s still going strong. At the time, Consumer Reports reliability scores for German cars were mediocre (hardly better than US models). It seems counterintuitive – German engineering and all that. Meantime, according to CR, German and US scores have improved and Japanese have fallen back but I would still stick with Honda (more likely, though, I won’t buy another car).

Recently there was some brouhaha involving ADAC, the German equivalent of AAA declaring German cars to be the best, based on “rigorous field data”. Turned out they were sort of cherry-picked. Also, they are now accused of having manipulated a vote for “Germany’s most popular car” (they declared the VW Golf the winner).

None of which is related to the gender issue but I do agree with Steve at 9.

53

TM 02.04.14 at 5:03 pm

Oh I see the ADAC story was already covered. I disagree that consumer reports is unreliable. Generally I have done well following their advice (with exceptions). My complaint about their car reliability methodology would be that they don’t accept reports from cars 10 years or older.

54

Dan Nexon 02.04.14 at 5:57 pm

VW has tons of QA problems that have nothing to do with engineering. But in a purely impressionist sense, they do tend to be better “engineered” for driving, but lack the tolerance range of most Japanese cars, i.e., they fail more often.

55

Dan Nexon 02.04.14 at 5:58 pm

Or, more accurately, involve a different dimension of engineering…

56

hix 02.04.14 at 7:01 pm

Either way, the great thing about Volkswagen is that employees do have amechanism to have input about a lack of female engineers in adds, or other things that might important to them. Unfortunately engineers will not be represent it seems in typical narrow union US tradition. The head of the work council already demanded a more independent US strategy so that cultural fauxpasses like failing to build a big SUV with intuitive to use navigation system or fulfilling the gender and race quotas in adds can be avoided in the future.

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-02-04/volkswagen-plants-union-vote-would-be-a-southern-breakthrough-for-labor#r=lr-sr

“Workers at a Volkswagen AG (VOW:GR) auto plant in Tennessee will vote next week on union representation in an exercise being watched as a potential bellwether for labor organization efforts at other foreign-owned automakers in the South. The secret ballot, being held with the company’s cooperation from Feb. 12-14 at the Chattanooga sedan plant, would establish representation by the United Auto Workers and create a works council similar those used at every other VW plant,”

“VW considers labor-management cooperation a competitive advantage, and the company has said it concluded that the creation of a works council in the U.S. would require union representation at the plant.”

Now lets hope that articles like this wont cost the UAW to many votes and that they will negotiate more inclusive than they did in Detroit recently afterwards.

57

TM 02.04.14 at 7:35 pm

Very interesting. The article also notes that “That decision [to support union representation] has opened up a rift between the company and some local elected officials”

So now politicians will oppose unionization even when capitalists won’t.

58

Jean Camp 02.05.14 at 3:09 pm

Every time a Subaru, Ford, or Chevy goes 100,00 miles, the engineer gets her cup of coffee.

VW points out that if one of those cars makes it to 100k, it is basically a miracle. And also, women should not buy their cars.

Who made that? It was horrible.

59

paul 02.05.14 at 4:25 pm

Interesting that other manufacturers who advertise their engineering do show women engineers. Tokenism, likely, but at least not tonedeafness.

60

GiT 02.06.14 at 12:55 am

“Belle has celebrated her father’s bread. Bread is quite an engineering feat, might I note.”

Years ago I was working as a writing tutor for a few students part of a summer class on research paper writing, where for the course each student basically worked on their own project over the course of the class. The most memorable was a chemistry student whose paper was all about the science of making his ideal loaf of bread and the experiments he was conducting in service of that pursuit. Very fun and interesting to work with him for the few hours I did.

61

GiT 02.06.14 at 12:55 am

“Belle has celebrated her father’s bread. Bread is quite an engineering feat, might I note.”

Years ago I was working as a writing tutor for a few students part of a summer class on research paper writing, where for the course each student basically worked on their own project over the course of the class. The most memorable was a chemistry student whose paper was all about the science of making his ideal loaf of bread and the experiments he was conducting in service of that pursuit. Very fun and interesting to work with him for the few hours I did.

62

GiT 02.06.14 at 12:57 am

Sorry for the double post, no idea why that happened. I welcome any relevantly empowered person to delete both the duplicate and this post. You can delete the original too, if you really want to.

63

derrida derider 02.06.14 at 5:29 am

Petrol is taxed to the hilt in Europe, while diesel is merely taxed heavily. This means their cars are:
- smaller, but even more so use less fuel for their size
- often diesel; European manufacturers have spent their development money on small diesels more than on other fuel saving approaches.

As a generalisation European cars are lighter and less conservatively engineered than US or Japanese cars built with the “cheap gas” US market in mind. Given similar build quality (apparently not always present) they are always, therefore, going to be more efficient, more fun to drive, but much less reliable.

64

Eric H 02.07.14 at 1:33 pm

On the other hand, my VW has 306k miles on it, and got 40 mpg on my last fill up (turbodiesel). Maybe y’all should change the oil once in a while ;)

65

Meredith 02.09.14 at 6:50 am

Bread and cars. I am reminded of my own VW bug (well, our, a former our, though the car remained mine after the split) which we drove across the country decades ago ( well, not really the whole country, but Michigan to New Mexico is a long long way, an immensely beautiful way). When we got to Roswell and the beginning of the NM mountains, having emerged from west Texas, out we got, files in hand, to ready those spark plugs for the new timing (VW let you do your own thing in those days). Sort of like dealing with yeast. An art more than a science.

And I had yet to see what beauty could be. New Mexico.

66

Moz in Oz 02.10.14 at 12:11 am

Eric H@64: my impression with other German products is that they expect you to read the manual and follow the maintenance schedule. Which is not something most Americans would do.

Admittedly I haven’t owned a car, but I’ve got a number of engineered items where the manual is quite specific and in my rare dealings with the manufacturers they have seemed quite put out when I have over-run maintenance intervals by 10%. This is, FWIW, in contrast to the competing Japanese manufacturer whose equivalent was not designed to be maintained and the working life was less than the service interval on the German version. The German one was 3x the price but cheaper to run because it’s into it’s 10th service interval…

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