Kia backpedals amid int'l furor over Diana spot

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Kia Motors Corp. is "re-evaluating" a TV commercial in which a Princess Diana look-alike survives, without a scratch, a pursuit by paparazzi.

In the spot, currently in production in Boston but meant to air only in South Korea, photographers chase a young woman who's driving a Kia Shuma (marketed as the Sephia in North America). The woman eventually emerges unharmed from the car and winks slyly at the camera.

It was a chase by paparazzi in Paris that led to last August's car crash killing Princess Diana.

DIANA LOOK-ALIKE IS OUT

At least one visible change already has been made in the Kia spot--it won't feature a Diana look-alike.

A Kia spokesman said the South Korean car marketer is completely rethinking the ad following worldwide criticism.

Production of the spot will continue in Boston, said Shin Ji Na, Kia account director at Seoul-based agency MBC Adcom, but the original actress, Nicky Lilley, has been replaced by another woman who does not resemble Diana.

Ms. Shin was apologetic about the negative reaction but defended the merit of the original ad.

"We didn't mean to suggest the crash with our commercial," she said. "The princess was often followed by paparazzi."

She added that the agency did not anticipate the negative response and changed actresses after the complaints.

"Some of our country's people are angry about [the response in] England," Ms. Shin said. "Production was [under way] but [the] English want to stop it, so some [Koreans] are disappointed at the limited freedom of expression."

`SINCERE APOLOGIES'

The marketer sounded more repentant about the commercial.

"What can we say?" Kia Media Relations Director Jeun Sang Jin asked quietly. "We express our sincere apologies and regret the troubles we caused. We never intended to aggravate people. There was some misunderstanding, and we will re-evaluate all segments of the ad."

A Kia director formally apologized for the misunderstanding in a letter to the British ambassador in Seoul, and a second letter is being drafted to present to the British media, which have vehemently condemned the ad.

U.K. newspapers went into a frenzy last week as they broke stories saying Ms. Lilley, who has made a career in England as a Diana look-alike, walked off the set in disgust--and apparently started giving interviews--when the commercial's message became clear to her.

GOLDBERG NOT INVOLVED

U.K. stories, however, mistakenly cited Kia's U.S. agency as the culprit. Executives at Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco, called U.S. journalists to deny any involvement.

"Goldberg Moser O'Neill is in no way associated with this distasteful spot," said Chairman Fred Goldberg.

This isn't the first time MBC Adcom has gotten financially troubled Kia in hot water. Last year, the carmaker was sued in the U.S. for using in a print ad the image of a San Francisco pedestrian without his permission.

In the U.K., bewildered local Kia executives first heard about the controversial campaign from reporters. And one of those executives displayed a reason why ad agencies can be so important to marketers--as a place to pin the blame.

"It was totally the agency's idea," the Kia executive told The Times of London.

Contributing: Laurel Wentz.

Copyright May 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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