German automaker Audi has taken the rare step of publicly apologizing for an ad and pledging to investigate how the image was approved for sharing on the brand’s official Twitter feed.
However, some fans on social media said critics were reading too much into the ad, which was accused of bringing to mind accidents involving children and, by a smaller number of commenters, of sexualizing the child in the ad.
In its three-part apology on Twitter, Audi said it had intended for the child in the ad to symbolize the Audi RS 4 Avant’s safety features while, presumably, showing it to be fun to drive.
“We sincerely apologize for this insensitive image and ensure that it will not be used in future,” the brand wrote. “We will also immediately examine internally, how this campaign has been created and if control mechanisms failed in this case.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the original tweet posted on Sunday had not been deleted.
The ad’s critics generally cited one of two complaints: that it insensitively conveyed an image that might be associated with children being hit by cars, or that it sexualized a child.
One of many tweets posted in German described the ad as: “Huge car in concrete desert threatens a small child. Does that matter to Audi?”
Another German tweet asked: “Are you crazy? Given the amount of traffic fatalities, are you putting a small child in front of a huge car that the driver can’t see because of the car? Is this advertising to kill children?”
Several critics noted how easy it is for children to wander into harm’s way around cars.
But the ad’s commentators were definitely split on allegations on Twitter that it sexualized the child in the image, a claim that seemed to be tied to the tweet’s copy: “Lets your heart beat faster—in every aspect.”
The ad appears to have been created from a photo shoot commissioned by German agency Philipp & Keuntje.