For the second time in a month, an automaker has apologized for the work of an overseas marketing firm, this time for a commercial depicting a man trying to kill himself in his vehicle.
The spot, created by the agency Innocean Europe for Hyundai Motor Co. to use in Great Britain, shows a suicide attempt failing because the vehicle, the ix35 crossover, did not produce any harmful emissions. Hyundai said it did not request or approve the ad, and it removed the video from YouTube today after criticism of it spread rapidly through social media.
"Hyundai Motor deeply and sincerely apologizes for the offensive viral ad," the company said in one of two statements it released on the matter. "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."
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 United States. The ad is for the fuel-cell version of the iX35, which Hyundai unveiled at the Geneva auto show in March and eventually plans to sell in the United States as well.
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 an agency 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 Group's JWT India, also fired employees who were involved in creating the images. Ford officials in the United States said they were appalled by the ads and had no knowledge of them before the images went viral online.
The head of Hyundai Motor America expressed a similar reaction 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 Web site Jalopnik.com 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 of a commercial that the company said it had neither paid for nor approved.