According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over one million people commit suicide every year across the globe. In the United States in 2010, 38,364 people took their own lives. Suicide is a serious issue and should not be taken lightly. So when I discovered that Innocean Europe, the in-house advertising agency for Hyundai Motors, made light of suicide in a recent commercial, I was flabbergasted. Then disgusted. Then irate. After my personal emotions subsided, I thought of this week’s topic- reacting to negative press or social media comments.
Below is the original ad. PLEASE BE WARNED!! These images are disturbing. Understand that before you watch.
Here is a link to a reaction from Holly Brockwell, an advertising professional. She creates advertising. It’s her job. And her father committed suicide when she was a young girl. Her reaction sums up the inappropriateness of the ad and shows the real harm such insensitivity can cause.
And so, now on to the reaction by Hyundai. Mathew Herper of Forbes provides updates in his article here:
The initial reaction of Hyundai Europe was:
We understand that some people may have found the iX35 video offensive. 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.
For the commotion it spawned, this is woefully inadequate. Later Hyundai added the following:
We at Hyundai Motor America are shocked and saddened by the depiction of a suicide attempt in an inappropriate UK video featuring a Hyundai. Suicide merits thoughtful discussion, not this type of treatment.
So at this point they have acknowledged that there is a greater issue than they apologized for initially. But as the S-Storm continued, they offered up this nugget:
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.
In this latest update, Hyundai uses the cliched defense of “we didn’t know, so it’s not our fault”. I will be very interested to follow this story, because I’m certain it’s not over. Some of the comments from the blogs above argue about banning the ad versus freedom of speech. Insensitivity versus parody. Humor versus bad taste. But a few go further to state, as Holly did, that they will never buy a Hyundai because of this add. I strongly doubt that the ad will prompt someone to buy who otherwise would not have. So the loss in potential sales could be huge.
I don’t know what Hyundai’s best reaction should have been: some sort of link to suicide prevention hotlines; an immediate donation of a large sum of money to related causes; the public firing of anyone involved in the making of the ad; dissolution of Innocean Europe. But what I do know, Hyundai did a terrible job of reacting to the crisis, and it will likely cost them dearly.