Of Course Hyundai Knew Its Ad Would Offend -- Mountain Dew Too

Brands Claim No Prior Knowledge of Offensive Ads, but How Could That Be?

By Published on .

I'm getting tired of so many offensive ads showing up online that companies later apologize for, often claiming they neither knew about them nor approved them. I don't believe their apologies are sincere, and I wonder if you do.

I think Hyundai Europe -- and probably PepsiCo's Mountain Dew, Ford India and others that deny or regret ads that have already delivered their marketing messages -- knew full well that its controversial "Pipe Job" video existed.

"Pipe Job" actually outdoes Ford India's misogynistic celebrity kidnapping and bondage ads for Figo. Those at least were created by an outside agency.

The Hyundai ad was created by InnoceanEurope -- an internal agency at Hyundai. It shows the man taping a hose from a Hyundai IX35's exhaust pipe in an attempt to commit suicide by inhaling carbon monoxide. We watch him as he sits in the car, in the dark garage, waiting to die. Then the light comes on and the door opens and we see the tag line "The New IX35 with 100% water emissions." Apparently, the message is, "You can't kill yourself with this car." It's got low emissions, at least.

Just as Ford India denied that it had approved the Figo ads, and later was proved to have signed off on them, Hyundai Motor Europe said it had "no intention" of actually using the ad, although it was already online. "We understand that some people may have found the IX35 video offensive," the company's statement said. "We are very sorry if we have offended anyone. We have taken the video down and have no intention of using it in any of our advertising or marketing."

Hyundai North America distanced itself from its European counterpart. "We at Hyundai Motor America are shocked and saddened by the depiction of a suicide attempt in an inappropriate UK video featuring a Hyundai,' it said. "Suicide merits thoughtful discussion, not this type of treatment."

Do you believe that the ad was conceived, storyboarded, cast, shot and edited without Hyundai's knowledge? If that's true, I'm Queen Elizabeth.

The ad's been removed in a few places, but what goes on the internet stays on the internet, and it's still available on many sites, including this one. And after this one's removed, it'll pop up somewhere else. That's how the internet works. Holly Brockwell has a beautifully written post about how seeing the ad made her feel. Her father succeeded at committing suicide by car.

I understand better than most people the need to do something newsworthy, something talkable, even something outrageous to get those all-important viewing figures. What I don't understand is why a group of strangers have just brought me to tears in order to sell me a car. Why I had to be reminded of the awful moment I knew I'd never see my dad again, and the moments since that he hasn't been there. That birthday party. Results day. Graduation.

I lost my father to a similar suicide when I was 2 1/2. I don't know if he left a note.

Seeing that ad makes me feel like I just got hit in the heart. I'm sure tens of thousands of other children left behind by suicide share that feeling.

I hope that the next time Hyundai sits down to brainstorm, they'll think about how their words and images might affect other people. And I hope that everyone who communicates with the public will do the same. Please.

B.L. Ochman, president of whatsnextonline.com, is an internet marketing strategist and blogger who can be found Twittering, at WhatsNextBlog.com or with her newest venture, Pawfun.com.
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