(NOTE: If the video embedded above has been taken down, just zip on over to your video-sharing site of choice and search for "Hyundai Pipe Job". A certain automaker would be wise to remember that the internet is forever.)
The world is full of bad advertising.
Sometimes, ads fail through no fault of their own. Remember the 2002 "Collapse into Cool" poster from Starbucks that reminded some patrons of the 9/11 attacks? The designers weren't trying to be provocative, but they couldn't control the public's reaction,either.
Other times, ads fail because they're terrible or ill-conceived. These are usually whipped up by unsupervised creative teams, who don't bother vetting the ads before they run. Think of Volkswagen's "Shoot the Gap" commercial, or perhaps the most suggestive ad ever captured on camera, brought to you by Burger King, a long, greasy sandwich, the word "BLOW" in all-caps, and a dollop of glossy red lipstick.
A new Hyundai ad for U.K. consumers falls squarely into the second category.
The clip embedded above is called "Pipe Job", and it advertises the Hyundai ix35 fuel cell electric vehicle. The grim, cyan-heavy piece begins with images of a man taping up his garage door. The forlorn guy then settles into the driver's seat of his ix35 and starts it, sadly looking out at the detritus of his life.
Suddenly, we're on the street. The garage light flicks on, the man opens the door, and he glumly walks inside. Overlay text at the bottom of the screen reads, "THE NEW ix35 WITH 100% WATER EMISSIONS".
Translation: the poor schmuck's suicide attempt went belly-up (no pun intended) because his car is too eco-friendly. Apparently, he was too depressed to remember that.
REACTIONS HAVE NOT BEEN KIND
It's possible that "Pipe Job" was was meant as an in-house exercise, much like the tasteless ad "accidentally" released for the Ford Figo in India.
But it's more likely that this is a real commercial, and that the creatives at Innocean who dreamed it up are idiots.
Of all the negative commentary posted about the clip, none is more touching than this open letter to Hyundai and Innocean, written by Holly Brockwell. As fate would have it, Brockwell works in the advertising industry, and her father committed suicide in the same way as the man in Hyundai's ad -- the only difference is, Brockwell's father succeeded:
I’ve worked on automotive accounts. I actually worked on Honda for the best part of a year. And strangely, not once did it seem that the best way – the most intelligent way, the most creative way – to advertise their products to people was to remind them of the horrendous event that is suicide. Strangely enough, I could – and still can – think of a thousand more interesting, creative ideas that wouldn’t have left me feeling like I’ve just lost my dad all over again.
So I’d like to ask that next time you want to tell the world about a new innovation in car design, you think about it for a little bit longer. Think about me. Think about my dad. And the thousands of other suicide victims and the families they left behind.
My dad never drove a Hyundai. Thanks to you, neither will I.
In a statement, Hyundai said:
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 BOTTOM LINE
In ads, you can be crass, lewd, or completely surreal. (Consider a certain long-running campaign for toilet paper that's a not-so-subtle riff on the snappy rejoinder, "Does a bear defecate in the woods?") Heck, advertisers can even make funerals funny. But suicide? Not so much.