In an attempt at viral advertising gone very bad, Hyundai pulled an online commercial for its energy efficient European crossover SUV on Thursday, calling the spot "offensive" after a week-long outcry that called it a lot worse than that. After all, the South Korean car company's ad does imply, more or less, that the new iX35 is so clean that you can't even kill yourself. In the spot, titled "Pipe Job" and created by the Innocean agency, we see a man in his garage, rigging the grimly familiar suicide scene of exhaust pumped back into a car. Except the man walks out alive... because Hyundai's new green vehicle has 100 percent water emissions. Get it? (You can watch the full video below, if you're dark enough.)
The ad certainly might makes its point — and this online-only spot, which went live last week, was apparently made to get a bit of attention. But the Hyundai commercial sparked a dramatic outcry, especially for those with personal connections to suicide. In an open letter to Hyundai, Holly Brockwell, who works in advertising, breaks down the heartbreak: "When your ad started to play, and I saw the beautifully-shot scenes of taped-up car windows with exhaust feeding in, I began to shake. I shook so hard that I had to put down my drink before I spilt it. And then I started to cry." And the ad's cheery conclusion — an exterior cutaway, with the man exiting the garage alive — didn't help:
Surprisingly, when I reached the conclusion of your video, where we see that the man has in fact not died thanks to Hyundai’s clean emissions, I did not stop crying. I did not suddenly feel that my tears were justified by your amusing message. I just felt empty. And sick. And I wanted my dad.
Studies have shown that depictions of suicide in the media lead to more suicides in what's called "suicide contagion." Because of this very phenomenon, many places have guidelines on how to report on such things responsibly.