The Audi Ad is Empowered, Employees not so much

This week, Audi released a feel-good ad for the Superbowl. Women's positive messaging abounds during that game, due partly to the #NotBuyingCampaign launched a few years ago.

The new Audi ad stars a girl racing go-karts, overtaking a boy on the track, and an adoring dad wanting a sexism-free future for her. Like most commercials of "Femvertising", it received lots of happy emojis in social media and all around.

But a story in AdAge astutely noted that this Go-Girl message might sound odd to the adult women at Audi who are not offered the driver's seat. Hats off to writer E.J. Schultz who showed the company's leadership lacks women.

Replying to the criticism from AdWeek, a spokesman stated:

"Today, women comprise roughly 12% of Audi senior management workforce, including our senior VP, chief communications officer and senior director of human resources. In 2017 and beyond, we continue to support pay equality and pledge to put aggressive hiring and development strategies in place to increase the number of women in our workforce, at all levels."

At Audi's German office, the board lacks women; German management did set a few goals and then decided they were too hard:

from Audi AG website. 

from Audi AG website. 

When it comes to women, Audi does better than its parent company Volkswagen US which merits a C on our index of Gender Metrics. Call it a gentleman's C. Note the A for employee programs--meaning there are some family friendly offerings.

Score for Audi's Parent Company Volkswagen in US--Other score is Philanthropy

Score for Audi's Parent Company Volkswagen in US--Other score is Philanthropy

Breakdown of Scores for Audi Parent Company Volkswagen in US.

Breakdown of Scores for Audi Parent Company Volkswagen in US.

Our index tracks parent companis, but if done separately, Audi's own score would add up to a B. Although Audi US is not winning in women's leadership, recently it has been making moves toward becoming more Gender Fair. Two years ago, it started a women's employee resource group--not quite as good as a dedicated leadership development program which companies run to bring up more managers. Nor does it publish the percentage of women managers. The company's career page talks about extended maternity leave--but doesn't list the duration or whether it's paid. Last December, Audi signed onto the White House Equal Pay Pledge along with 100 other US firms. For 14 years, Audi has done female focussed philanthropy--with the American Film Institute which helps one director yearly. And this ad, would get an A for breaking stereotypes on our index.

What's different about the Audi ad is the reception. Usually, a virally happy-making message about a company encouraging girls, gets shared around, with no investigation into the level of empowerment for company employees. But the Audi spot suffered some real blow back--for not walking the talk entirely.

People are getting hip to the idea that companies can't just use equality to sell. Empowerment should be on the inside as well as the outside. Buyers who care about equality want it both ways--and leadership is a key piece. Brands like P&G, HP, GAP that empower women in their messaging and inside their companies will win. Or should we say score.