Online commentators in China have objected strongly to a car advertisement where a woman is examined like an animal by her future mother-in-law at a glamorous wedding and is compared to a used car.
Online posters said the ad, which was created by the joint-venture partner of the German luxury carmaker Audi, was sexist and demeaning to women.
The ad, which ran online and in cinemas, has had 5.7 million views on the social media platform QQ and has become a major talking point on many forums.
It opens at a rustic wedding, attended over by a European priest. The mother of the groom shouts, “Wait! Wait!” as he says, “I do”, before rushing forward to the altar to pinch the bride’s nose, check behind her ears and examine the inside of her mouth.
“Ma! Ma!” the horrified groom exclaims, pulling his mother away, as the Western priest asks her, in excellent Mandarin, what she is doing. The mother starts to walk back to her seat, but then turns to give a signal of approval, prompting relief from the couple. However, she then peers at the younger woman’s chest.
As the bride covers her breasts, a voiceover says: “An important decision must be made carefully”, and then refers viewers to Audi’s second-hand website.
“Assured by official certification,” the voice continues, as a red Audi glides along a motorway in a gleaming Chinese cityscape.
The ad parodies the often tense relationship in traditional Chinese culture between women and their mothers-in-law, but for some it represents pure discrimination that objectifies women.
One commentator, named Of course I forgive her, wrote: “I will never, ever buy an Audi!”, while Qianxingzuji0000 thundered: “This ad makes me so sick, disgusting!”
Another, with the moniker hlosr, wrote that Chinese consumers should “firmly boycott the company with wrong values!”
Others were less critical, or didn’t understand the fuss.
“Humour, people need humour,” wrote please call me poet Han, while Doflamingo said: “Isn’t she checking plastic surgery? How come it’s a discrimination of female?
Other responses were plain offensive: “Oh of course women are exactly like second-hand cars, they are everywhere.”
Audis were among the first foreign marques to really take off in China, and were very popular among government officials until a clampdown on overseas car purchases. It was the top-selling luxury car brand in China until last year, but now sales are dropping and BMW and Mercedes-Benz are gaining ground.
An Audi spokesman told the South China Morning Post newspaper that the ad was being investigated and had been the brainchild of its Chinese joint-venture partner, FAW-Volkswagen Automotive.
Chinese ads are prone to including inappropriate messages. Last year, a detergent producer was forced to apologise for an ad that showed a Chinese woman using the washing powder to “whitewash” a black man.