Bad marketing: Hyundai Shows – and Pulls – Suicide-Themed Ad

As a Boston marketing expert, and Boston communications consultant, I am always amazed at the lengths that marketers will go to, to push their products. Sometimes that’s a good thing – and sometimes it’s very, very bad. In their quest to tell a “story” about their product, advertising agencies and PR firms sometimes go way too far and do things that are not only questionable – but pretty awful.

Case in point. Hyundai Motor Company recently used its in-house agency, Innocean Worldwide, to depict a commercial that shows that its cars do not produce harmful emissions. Sounds OK, right? Well, here’s the method they used to illustrate just that: they showed a man attempting to kill himself, in his car, due to carbon monoxide poisoning – and he fails. The Hyundai, apparently, does not produce enough poisonous gases to let this man commit suicide. As an article in Advertising Age said, “What could they possibly have been thinking?

And believe it or not, Hyundai’s signature tag line is “New thinking. New possibilities.”

The spot aired in Britain, and afterwards, Hyundai executives rushed to apologize, after critics bemoaned the commercial. The top execs at Hyundai Motor America tweeted that they were “shocked and saddened” by the depiction of a suicide attempt in what they termed an “inappropriate” U.K. video.

I agree. What were these highly-paid advertising executives thinking? Did they find that it was appropriate to make a joke of suicide? With that kind of thinking, why not Lou Gehrig’s disease or Alzheimer’s? To do so would be unthinkable, but they apparently felt suicide was fair game. I’m disgusted.

Those people need to get a grip. All you need to do is go to the website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to get the sad statistics. In 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 38,364 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. In 2010, someone in the USA died by suicide every 13.7 minutes. That’s no laughing matter and no joke. Thank goodness Hyundai pulled this unconscionable ad.

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