A man, for reasons best known to him, decides to commit suicide. He figures out that the easiest way to do so would be by gassing himself to death. So he sits in his car, having redirected the noxious fumes of the exhaust, into the car. He’s rolled up the windows and taped the edges so that no gases leak. Then he starts the engine; the fumes come in and he awaits the death that he desired. He waits. And waits.
And, hey presto, he doesn't die. Because he’s in no ordinary car; he’s in a Hyundai ix35, the extraordinary car with 100 percent water emissions.
Hahaha. What a great ad! Or so the think tank at Hyundai and advertising agency Innocean thought.
But they didn’t stop for a moment to think about those who do commit suicide in a car (unfortunately they didn't have the ix35) and what their families go through.
You can see the commercial here.
In case it has been removed by Hyundai (as it has been in a couple of places), search for "Hyundai Pipe Job" in YouTube and you’ll find it sooner or later.
The fall out has been immediate and damaging.
There is no criticism as poignant as this blog post by Holly Brockwell.
Holly’s father committed suicide, in a car. Here’s a part of the letter she wrote to Hyundai and Innocean after seeing the TVC.
"When your ad started to play, and I saw the beautifully-shot scenes of taped-up car windows with exhaust feeding in, I began to shake. I shook so hard that I had to put down my drink before I spilt it. And then I started to cry. I remembered looking out of the window to see the police and ambulance, wondering what was happening. I remember mum sitting me down to explain that daddy had gone to sleep and would not be waking up, and no, he wouldn’t be able to take me to my friend’s birthday party next week. No, he couldn’t come back from heaven just for that day, but he would like to if he could. I remember finding out that he had died holding my sister’s soft toy rabbit in his lap.
Surprisingly, when I reached the conclusion of your video, where we see that the man has in fact not died thanks to Hyundai’s clean emissions, I did not stop crying. I did not suddenly feel that my tears were justified by your amusing message. I just felt empty. And sick. And I wanted my dad.”
I haven’t seen an ad in poorer taste ever – and this one makes the Ford Figo ads which were yanked by Ford seem almost pure.
It is close to impossible to create an entertaining and amusing piece of communication twisting rape or murder or other crimes and unfortunate events. Whatever you do, there will be those who are reminded of the effects that the crime or event in their lives, and the memories can never be pleasant.
Hyundai will no doubt have withdrawn this ad. They would doubtless apologise.
But the damage is done. “My dad never drove a Hyundai. Thanks to you, neither will I,” is how Holly Brockwell ends her open letter.
Neither will many who find the ad abominably distasteful.
Update: Hyundai apologises. "Hyundai Motor deeply and sincerely apologizes for the offensive viral ad. The ad was created by an affiliate advertising agency, Innocean Europe, without Hyundai's request or approval. It runs counter to our values as a company and as members of the community. We are very sorry for any offense or distress the video caused. More to the point, Hyundai apologizes to those who have been personally impacted by tragedy," the company said.
If the ad is, indeed, a rogue ad, heads will roll at the highest levels at ad agency Innocean. It’s extraordinary that, just a couple of weeks ago, Ford had to apologise over an unauthorized ad by agency JWT, resulting in the sacking of senior professionals at Ford and at JWT India.