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Hyundai’s controversial suicide advert

26 April 2013

Please note that the following in no way reflects on Hyundai SA or our opinion of them – the advert in question was released by a global ad agency based in the US and commissioned by Hyundai Global. We have great respect for the South African Hyundai team.


Hyundai Global is in hot water after posting the ad below. The advert has since been deleted, and the following apology issued:

Hyundai has said it ‘sincerely apologies for the offensive viral video’ and has pulled the advert depicting a man attempting to commit suicide by sticking a hose from his exhaust pipe into his car.

MSN’s Ian Dickson reports

So, while free speech is important, there’s certainly a fine line in advertising between being memorable and being off-putting. Shock tactics are not uncommon in advertising, but it’s difficult to maintain a balance – and one’s audience. This isn’t the first “shocking” advert from the growing company. This advert, considered shocking enough to be banned in the Netherlands, was made for the new Hyundai Veloster, and was generally well received by the public. Locally, companies like Nandos employ the same tactic, publishing adverts almost certain to be banned, but with such a strong message that they are memorable, and often become viral on the internet, where content censorship is difficult.


But what if you cross that line? What if the advert is memorable for the wrong reason? Many argue Hyundai is experiencing this with their “suicide” advert, as seen below, due to the strong reactions it is eliciting from viewers around the world.


In bad taste?

Many were affected by the advert, saying that it’s either offensive or that they would be offended had they known someone who had taken their life in the way depicted in the ad. One US viewer, who works in the advertising world and understand the pressures placed on creatives to come up with memorable content, was particularly offended, writing this open letter to Hyundai and its now highly unpopular advertising agency, Innocean. The letter has itself gone viral and sparked a mass delete by the motoring company of as many copies of the adverts online as possible.

Their Innocean is based in California, and while most negativity is now being aimed at the global advertising and marketing agency instead of the automaker who the ad was made for, the former is actually part of the Hyundai Group. Despite their description on their website, it’s reportedly also owned by the Hyundai Motors chairman and his daughter (according to this 2011 report). Besides this, of course, is the obvious fact that the motor company would still have had to approve any copy created by the advertising company. Is the line to fine to see from inside the boardroom? Can desperation for coverage and success from previous risque adverts spur companies on so much that they throw ethical caution to the wind?


Media under fire

In the UK, The Guardian came under fire for publishing the video as one of the best adverts of the week, and has since removed it. It seems the publication was less sensitive to the possible offense the advert might cause and more appreciative of the underlying concept. Their original description of the ad read as follows:

“In order to demonstrate the benign nature of the advertised vehicle’s emissions, we find out what happens when a desperate man feeds his exhaust pipe into the car in a bid to end his life. Mind you, as he trudges back to his house to continue his meaningless existence, it doesn’t seem likely that the car has saved his life for very long – unless, of course, his suicide attempt was prompted by despair about global warming.” 

Following the release of the open letter mentioned above, however, this description was deleted.


Toothpaste out the tube

The advert was removed but has been uploaded to YouTube by this media/marketing/advertising watch YouTube channel.

UPDATE: The video has since been removed by several channels including the one mentioned above, but is still viewable below:


The video is below. It shows a failed suicide attempt in their new ix35 due to its 100% water emissions. 

Pipe Job Hyundai TV Commercial

The SA media says:

The South African motoring media picked the video up on Twitter, and responded as below. Let us know what you think of the advert, the issue of creative freedom, and the removal of the advert by Hyundai and the danger to younger viewers who may attempt to “try it at home”. Do you think it achieved what they set out to achieve – to be spoken about and get coverage – or do you think it’s done the brand more harm than good?