For the second time in a month, an automaker has apologized for the work of a marketing firm, this time for a commercial depicting a man trying to kill himself in his vehicle.
The spot for Hyundai Motor Co. -- by in-house agency Innocean Worldwide -- for use in Britain, shows a suicide attempt failing because the vehicle, the IX35 crossover, did not produce enough harmful emissions. Hyundai removed the commercial from YouTube today after criticism of it spread rapidly through social media.
"We understand that some people may have found the IX35 video offensive," Hyundai Motor Europe said in a statement. "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."
It is unclear whether Hyundai officials had approved the spot before it was posted online, but Innocean is owned by Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo and his daughter.
The IX35 is the European version of the Hyundai Tucson sold in the U.S.
In March, Ford Motor Co. apologized for a series of unauthorized ads showing scantily clad women bound and gagged in the back of a Ford Figo. The ads were created by Ford's outside agency partner in India to enter in a local awards show and were not intended to be part of a Ford campaign, the automaker said at the time.
The agency, WPP's JWT India, also fired employees who were involved in creating the images. Ford officials in the U.S. said they were appalled by the ads and had no knowledge of them before the images went viral.
The head of Hyundai Motor America expressed a similar sentiment today.
"We at Hyundai Motor America are shocked and saddened by the depiction of a suicide attempt in an inappropriate U.K. video featuring a Hyundai," CEO John Krafcik said in a message posted on Twitter. "Suicide merits thoughtful discussion, not this type of treatment."
The one-minute spot shows a middle-aged man sitting in the driver's seat of a right-hand-drive vehicle inside a closed garage with a hose running from the exhaust pipe into a window. After a few moments, the man opens the garage door and trudges back into the house as text on the screen reads, "The new IX35, with 100%-water emissions." A Hyundai logo appears at the end.
The website Jalopnik labeled it "the worst car ad in history."
Holly Brockwell, a freelance copywriter in London who writes a blog called Copybot, today posted an open letter to Hyundai in which she described having a severe emotional reaction to the commercial because her father had killed himself in a similar manner. She posted a photo of her father's suicide note and ended the letter by writing, "My dad never drove a Hyundai. Thanks to you, neither will I."
This is not the first time an auto marketer has gotten in hot water over a commercial implying suicide. In a General Motors Super Bowl spot from 2007, a yellow assembly-line robot dreams it loses its job after making a small mistake at work -- dropping a tiny screw -- and commits suicide by jumping off a bridge. The spot, meant to tout the automaker's obsession with quality, was criticized by suicide prevention groups, including the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and after discussions with the group GM agreed to edit out the suicide scene.
In 2010, Audi officials were upset when one of its ad agencies used suicide as the basis for a commercial that the company said it had neither paid for nor approved.
Outside the auto industry, PepsiCo got into trouble in 2008 for print ads from BBDO Duesseldorf for its one-calorie PepsiMax soda. In the ads, which ran in a German lifestyle publication, a cartoonlike calorie is shown committing suicide in a number of ways, including a gunshot, a hanging, self-immolation and even slitting its wrist with a razor blade. The tagline: "One Is a Very, Very Lonely Calorie." The ads were uploaded to internet message boards and created an uproar far beyond German borders. Pepsi apologized for the ads and said they wouldn't run again.
Last year, a character on the AMC drama "Mad Men" tried to kill himself in a Jaguar but failed because the car wouldn't start. Jaguar officials played no role in the show's use of its vehicles and later wrote in a guest post on Jalopnik that they had "never been so happy to see our car not start."
Automotive News, with contributions from Advertising Age