It was shaping up to be a great, great week for Hyundai.
On April 19, the carmaker’s new ad for the British market – which centres around a man attempting suicide in his new Hyundi – was named Ad of the Week by The Drum, a well-thought of UK marketing magazine. On Thursday, April 25, The Guardian also highlighted the spot as worth a watch.
Hyundai’s marketers doubtless thought they had a potentially huge hit on their hands: Maybe it would even win some awards for its originality. Car advertising is usually riddled with visual cliches, such as the open road, night-time city driving and over-the-top stunts like driving through walls of flame or crystal chandeliers.
They dreamed of marketing awards and dreamed these great dreams, but they could not have been more wrong.
How wrong? Watch the ad. When done, pick up your jaw and then scroll down to find out what happened next:
The spot is unusual and dramatic: It shows a depressed man locking himself in his car, attempting to suffocate himself with exhaust fumes. But the Hyundai ix35 is a fuel cell car, and its tailpipe emits only water vapor. “How clever!” the marketers must have thought. Then, as the music swells dramatically, and the man leans back to accept his fate …. nothing happens. He’s forced to get out and open the garage door to let the steam out.
But then, also on April 25, came a blog post by an advertising copywriter in London whose father committed suicide in just such a fashion as was depicted by Hyundai. She published his suicide note. Suddenly, the ad wasn’t a bold creative move against car advertising cliches. Instead, it was a tasteless joke about depression and death.
Her post, and a copy of the ad on YouTube, immediately went viral. It’s the most talked about ad of the week alright — but for all the wrong reasons.
Hyundai immediately tweeted an apology and promised to withdraw the ad. But it was too late: By that time, the ad had become its own case study on how to create a PR crisis. Hyundai tried to get the ad removed from YouTube, but copies of it were being published faster than the company’s lawyers could make challenges to them.
Today, it emerged that Hyundai had been given a warning days ago that the ad would cause offence. Adweek had contacted the company on April 19, and wrote a widely overlooked blog post suggest the spot was crass.
Hyundai never returned the message.