Saturday, December 16, 2017

That VW ad – brand building Jamaica-style!

January 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Free and Laughing, Work

VW Jamaica Style!

Social Media is a-twitter (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) with the Volkswagen Superbowl ad spoken by white, non-Jamaicans in Jamaican.  Of course, some Jamaicans are question this caricature of Jamaicans – as one of my Facebook friends posted  “The ad appears to be stoking some of the worst stereotypes of Jamaica, easy going read lazy, island time, read always late, eat drink and be merry and don’t plan because every little thing will be alright”.   And now there is a debate on the main networks in the USA about whether the ad is racist! For the record, very few, if any, of my Jamaican friends think it’s racist.  In the cut and thrust of the in-the-moment world of Social Media, there are now two “Jamaicans for Volkswagen” Facebook pages, and we are heading in droves to the Today Show website to vote – YES!  We LOVE the ad!  And NO!  It’s not racist to us!  Just one of the complexities of being Jamaican – we don’t equate being Jamaican with being black for Jamaicans come in many hues and a mix of ethnicities.  It’s complicated …..


As I watch all of this unfold, I muse “What we can learn from this”?


The “Jamaica” brand has been touted for centuries.  It is reputed that Christopher Columbus exclaimed upon first seeing Jamaica “Tis the fairest isle on which man has ever set eyes”.  And numerous visitors would agree.  And for us who “born ah a yard”  (born there) – we would concur wholeheartedly.  Jamaica will provide you with some of the most breathtaking vistas you ever could see.


Brand Jamaica continued apace, built by people like Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a pan-Africanist who has been the inspiration for people like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X; Harry Belafonte, who became famous  singing about the island home of his ancestors; Bob Marley.  Need I say anything about this Time magazine anointed bard of Song and Album of the 21st century, who is beloved, revered and inspires billions?  And now Usain Bolt, the fastest man ever and the personification of what Jamaica means to the world.  All of these men (and there are many women too like Mary Seacole, Amy Jacques Garvey, Louise Bennett-Coverley to name a snippet) have worn their Jamaican identity proudly!  All of them have embodied, augmented and built the Jamaica brand.


So now, Jamaican culture is recognized as one of the coolest on earth; many words in Jamaican patois make it to the Oxford English dictionary each year and enjoy universal usage; our reggae music is mainstream, featuring in many an advertisement or movie soundtrack; “jerk” appears on the menus of restaurants the world over. Not bad for a tiny island with just 2.7 million people (plus an estimated 2.5 million living overseas).  There’s something about Jamaica – you can recognize us even before we open our mouths – the swagger, the out-thrust chest, the energy. As we in Jamaica would say “We large and in charge”.


This is our brand.  So what can we learn from this amazing phenomenon?  As a consultant and a business strategist, I constantly seek the lessons, in particular from less-obvious sources.  Here are four that come to my mind:


  1. Know what your brand stands for. A question on my Facebook page – “What does Jamaica have to do with selling cars”.  Nothing.  But Jamaica has everything to do with “selling” happy experiences, hence our tourist industry! Is it too obvious to point out that VW is NOT selling cars?  They are selling happiness … via their cars.  I will always remember Usain Bolt saying in an interview at the Beijing Olympics “I’m an entertainer.  I come out to entertain the fans”.  Huh?  Thought he was an athlete?  WRONG.  Bolt is an entertainer.  He knows it.  His fans know it.  Which is why after the less than 10 seconds of glory-Bolt speed, fans revel in his mainstage afterglow!  Happy experiences Bolt-style!


Great branding is about knowing what business you are truly in; defining the value you wish to create and designing ways to do so.  Did you always think that Starbucks sells coffee?  And Apple sells technology?   That’s a very small part.  The “magic” is in their brand value.  Which is why their brands command such premiums.


  1. The brand is personal.  Sure, “Jamaica” is a brand, but every single Jamaican embodies this brand.  Every one of us is a part of it, and every one of us conveys the brand image every day.  From the musician, the waiter in the hotel, the taxi driver, the business executive – all display, in their own interpretation, the Jamaica brand.


The lesson for any brand is that to make your brand powerful, each team member must embody it but yet place his or her own imprint on it.  Let’s take another famous brand – Starbucks. Howard Schultz may be the CEO and may have formally defined the Starbucks brand, but each Starbucks team player builds the brand every time he/she serves a customer.  You know how you are going to be served at Starbucks, and it’s different to Second Cup or McDonalds.  Making sure that each team member understands what the brand means to him/her personally and is aligned with the brand is crucial to brand building.


  1. The brand is global.  A Jamaican accent spoken by mid-Western Americans selling a German car.  Great branding knows no borders and embraces the differences.  You have to dispel with the obvious and make linkages that don’t seem to make sense.  Why didn’t they get a Jamaican to do the ad, someone asked on my Facebook page.   Well, that would be just too obvious, boring and lack real impact.  VW made linkages that were neither obvious nor expected.  And it works.


  1. The brand is multi-dimensional.  The Jamaica brand is colourful (black, green, gold and red), noisy (reggae music, the language, the accent), sweet (oh yes – the good ganja herb, sea, fresh air), spicy (jerk, our cuisine) and fun (that energy of which I spoke earlier).  No one of these stands alone – they work best when they come together.  So Usain Bolt doesn’t just run fast – he is larger than life colourful, noisy, energetic, playful.


When building your brand, consider all dimensions and how they interweave and come together.  Again, look at another great brand – Apple.  Enter an Apple store and you have entered a shrine to the master of sleek design – not just in their products, but also in the décor, the colour, the lighting.  You FEEL sleek, sophisticated and sexy entering those hallowed halls.


Building a great brand is not something easily done.  It requires time, effort and attention to detail.  It also requires the willingness to take risk, to push the borders of what’s acceptable.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  In the case of VW and Jamaica, I think both win.  Das auto.  Irie.


And something else to consider: What’s your personal brand?

  • What do you stand for?
  • How relevant are you globally?
  • How willing are you to take risks, but across boundaries, jump outside of boxes?
  • Are you creating value?


Luckily for me, I am a born Jamaican.  I already have a leg-up.  It’s now up to me to step up! No problem.  Free and laughing.




27 Responses to “That VW ad – brand building Jamaica-style!”
  1. Liz says:

    Great analysis Marguerite!

  2. Marguerite Orane says:

    Thanks Liz. There are lessons in everything. Everything has meaning. I really want us to get out of the kass-kass, which takes us nowhere, and explore the lessons and how we can build on this.

  3. Cherryl says:

    Love this MO! Great discussion and lessons from a wonderful ad. As the tourism minister said, “Get in touch with your inner Jamaican.” Live life out loud, no apologies!

  4. Fabulous account and analysis! Also born Jamaican and I am stepping up with you. And for the record, I too am not offended by the Ad. More offended/annoyed with the analysis by one Ad executive in the news who says it is making fun of blacks. Yes, I am Jamaican and Black, but not all Jamaicans are black.

  5. Marguerite Orane says:

    That’s the Jamaican way!

  6. Marguerite Orane says:

    As I said Stephanie “It’s complicated”. I am really just loving this whole discussion.

  7. Carol says:

    Marguerite, I’m sorry, but I have to say it… I love you for writing this well thought out, clear and to-the-point article. I agree with everything you have said and how you have said it. I definitely am going to use some of your thoughts (properly cited of course) on the topic. We are Jamaicans and we see things differently. We know how to ‘Tek kin teet kibba heart bun’!! Thank you so much for sharing.

  8. Marguerite Orane says:

    Thanks Carol. Please share freely. We must use the treasures we have been given. For Jamaicans, it’s not the bauxite, sun/sand/sea, sugar, coffee or bananas – it’s the gift of being a people with character, energy, vitality and joy – despite our hardships. the world needs more joy, and we can each give it.

    Blessings in abundance to you


  9. Tabitha Anderson says:


  10. Maurene says:

    Great article Mo. As I write I am sitting in my office having lunch and enjoying the sunlight skipping gleefully across the breeze-stirred harbour as the sea gulls busily dive for their lunch. How can one help but being happy in such an environment? It is the same way I feel about the VW ad, happy, glad, grateful and eternally blessed to be a Jamaican, a fact that I am extremely PROUD of. The ad embodies the significant impact that the people of this dot in the Caribbean has had on the world. As someone has commented it is not about colour, it is about being Jamaican. It is the essence of being Jamaican that is reflected in the accent with which the world has a love affair. How can we be offended for what is essentially us. You see, we are confident and proud about our accent and culture and no negative opinions from communication specialists or otherwise will give us an inferiority complex about that.

  11. Prudence says:

    Amazing, you have said everything that I wanted to say
    I am Jamaican and I am not offended by the Volkswagen ad. Thank you for telling it like it is

  12. Marguerite Orane says:

    Thanks Prudence. It is a waste of time and energy to take offence. Better to learn!

    Blessings in abundance


  13. Marguerite Orane says:

    So true Maurene. I am sitting in my home office in cold, rainy, grey Toronto – feeling happy and excited about the wonderful Jamaican sunshine and warmth I bring to people here. I always get comments about it – my smile, my energy …. I shall continue

    Blessings in abundance


  14. Marguerite Orane says:

    Thanks Michael!

  15. Marguerite Orane says:


  16. Gaunette says:

    Great analysis Marguerite. Whilst I am truly proud of my brand, our brand…Jamaica, and I endorse your sentiments, I am also sensitive about the commodification of our culture. Isn’t our culture awesome….seems like we have to patent our “unique language” ..patois. I am not joking about this!!! The world is using our cultural resources for free, benefiting from it economically while we remain poor.
    What is the solution? How can we benefit from this ad from a tourism development perspective?…In my mind attracting tourists/ visitors to Jamaica via our colourful cultural offerings is not the issue. The challenge is to get them to spend as numbers do not equate to revenue. Likewise, how do we truly benefit from more hotel rooms to accommodate them when we are faced with poor negotiations and decisions including exorbitant and extensive tax haven, economic leakage among other issues, not to mention the various other pitfalls of mass tourism such as impact on our ecological and physical resources.
    Let’s think beyond the ‘buoyancy’ of this ad and look at the broader implications.

  17. Marguerite Orane says:


    Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. Yes, how do we take advantage of this gift we Jamaicans have been given? I admire Usain Bolt tremendously because he GETS what the Jamaica brand is and he GETS how to create a symbiotic relationship with Jamaica so that he benefits and Jamaica benefits. I believe that we must not sit and wait for the government. We must each look at how we can incorporate Jamaica into our own brands. Even 1% of us did this, it would make a HUGE difference. Red Stripe, Grace, Sandals, Bolt, Marley – all of those build on and build the Jamaica brand, to the wider benefit of all.

    I am so inspired, because my own “Free and Laughing” brand is fully in alignment with Jamaica. As I respond to you, I am completing the manuscript for my second “Free and Laughing” book. And I plan to launch a third by the end of the year. And they will help to make this world a happy place.

    Blessings in abundance


  18. Gaunette says:

    Thanks for your response Marguerite…I agree. With each of us playing a role we can do it. However, I am of the firm belief that we need to protect our brand or else it will be perceived as a commodity rather than what makes us Jamaican. I am inviting you to google ” Proud Jamaican in Istanbul”, “Innovation and Entrepreneuship, Jamaica’s Salvation” and “Marley Feeds the Soul”
    …I am also proud of my country and what it has made me to be.
    Let’s bond and band and secure our brand while simultaneously using it for our betterment.

  19. Marguerite Orane says:

    Not sure how to “protect” the Jamaica brand – except to keep it so robust that it is difficult to copy. Copyrights and other IP protection won’t take us very far. Plus, every time another great brand like VW or PUMA aligns itself with Jamaica, we win – if we choose …..

  20. Carol says:

    Marguerite, I love your analysis and couldn’t agree more. I am SO PROUD to be Jamaican, and am ‘overlated’ (a new word coined by a vox pop respondee), that our brand is so far-reaching and impactful, that VW can use it to sell their car experience. Lighten up all who take offense, please. It’s all good, a win/win situation for sure. Yes we love life, and we like living large,no apology necessary! We jus’ good like dat. Bless up!

  21. Marguerite Orane says:

    Yes Carol – “we broader than Broadway”

  22. Ally Ashman says:

    Very good take on the subject. The most refreshing so far. I am Jamaican Indian my husband is Jamaican white we have Jamaican black friends and Jamaican Chinese, etc. The only reason why I even classify is for people on the outside who need that classification. At home we are just us. No color difference recognized. Frankly I like the ad. The funny, on point and true. People “come to Jamaica and feel alright.”

  23. Marguerite Orane says:

    Thank you Ally. You make such a good point about people who need classification. There is so little difference between us, we are all just human beings being human – so, can we just all be happy and help others be happy too? My aunt, who migrated to the USA in the early 1950s, when asked her colour, would say “blue”. I always chuckle when I remember that

    Have a blessed, free and laughing day


  24. Marguerite Orane says:

    Yes Michael … my Aunty Perle was one free and laughing soul! My mom’s sister …


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] My most recent blog post addresses Brandbuilding from the VW ad featuring a Jamaican accent. click to view […]