February 15, 2002
A representative from McKinney-Silver, the company that created the Audi ad, said consultants
were hired to check proper pronunciation of Inuktitut words.

German car ad mangles Inuit culture

Audi spot is popular with Qallunat, but why are the two "Inuit" wearing snowshoes?


Can unintentionally hilarious depictions of Inuit culture sell cars?

The German car manufacturer Audi thinks so.

The company has been running a 30-second television spot that draws — more or less inaccurately — on Inuit culture, language and traditions to sell its high-performance Audi Quattro model.

The ad has aired in many countries since it was shot in 1997. But it only recently appeared in Canada, often cropping up during national news broadcasts.

The ad is simple. An elder and his grandson, both wearing skin parkas, walk together on the snow looking for animal tracks.

The most jarring anomaly is that the two characters wear snowshoes.

But that’s only until the old man opens his mouth to speak a language that is supposed to be Inuktitut.

"Nan-o-o-o-o-k," the old man says, pointing out a track in the snow. The word "bear" appears in subtitles across the screen.

"Amar-o-o-o-o-k," he says, pointing out another track, as the word "wolf" appears.

Next, the old man sees car tracks in the snow. "Audi," he says, "Audi Quattro." Then a gleaming Audi Quattro races by.

The spot was shot in Skagway, Alaska, which accounts for the odd scenes of tree-covered mountains in the background.

Cultural realism wasn’t as important as establishing the identity of the product in 30 seconds, said Kevin Rock, from the Toronto office of McKinney-Silver, the ad agency that created the spot.

"We’re trying to convey a product. We’re not doing a documentary of a certain culture," he said.

Rock said the snowshoes are meant to show the snow is very deep — and to show how impressive it is that the Audi Quattro can get through it.

Janet Northen, from McKinney-Silver’s head office in North Carolina, said the spot has been enormously popular. She said that’s due to the "romance story" element — the mentoring relationship between the "elder" and his grandson.

Northen said when casting for the ad was done in Vancouver, B.C., a call went out for First Nations and Inuit actors. She said they hired consultants to check proper pronunciation of the Inuktitut words and match up the animal tracks with the words.

"Next time they’re up there, they should pay attention to the footwear," Northen promised.