Not much leaves me speechless, mouth agape. But this sure did.
Last week, one of my more astute Facebook friends turned up the most shocking advertisement I have ever seen. There’s a good chance you have heard about it by now. It was so disturbing that I don’t have the heart to post a link to it.
The video ad, part of an online viral campaign, was for automobile maker Hyundai. In it, we find a man in a closed garage with his car. He is fitting a tube over the exhaust pipe, then plugging the other end into something that has been rigged up to convey the fumes into the closed car. Once this ominous work is done, he gets in.
And starts the car.
For seemingly endless, truly aching seconds, we see the man’s face as he draws in the noxious mixture fouling the air in the cockpit. We see his resignation, an advancing aspect of peace, perhaps the only kind he can know. We wonder what brought him to this pass, who will find him, the wreckage their lives will become…
Until, surprise surprise, the shot cuts to the exterior of the house and the garage door opens. The man emerges, alive and well. The graphics inform us that this new model of Hyundai has 100 percent water emissions.
Well, of course. He was taking a nice steam.
My anger at this massive manipulation was complete. But it was chained to the floor of my stomach, locked there by astonishment. I could not react in any meaningful way. Either I am not as tough as I think I am, or I have badly underestimated how screwed up the world has become.
USA Today reported that the ad was part of a European campaign (indeed, the house looks typically British and the car in the ad is right-side drive). An ad exec who actually lost her father in a car suicide noted her (understandably) horrified reaction. The Internet in general excoriated Hyundai for the ad. Hyundai stopped the campaign. Forbes’ Matthew Herper properly took to task both Hyundai and the agency that developed the ad, Innocean Europe.
And the running for the hills began. Hyundai’s North American division released this statement:
“We at Hyundai Motor America are shocked and saddened by the depiction of a suicide attempt in an inappropriate European video featuring a Hyundai. Suicide merits thoughtful discussion, not this type of treatment.”
I hope that, indeed, Hyundai North America really had nothing to do with this, and had no idea it was going on. I suppose it’s possible. But…
Really? You mean in a huge multinational, no one was Skyping across the pond from time to time? A whole campaign can develop like a black ops mission?
Hard to swallow. Harder still is the notion that this idea could ever get out of the accursed meeting where it was born, the spawn of some dumbass who considers himself creative. And hardest of all is the idea that the idea survived, level by level by level, all the way through storyboarding to production to the corridors of client responsibility. That’s hundreds of people too morally deficient, too bereft of courage to speak up and say, “This is wrong. We have to stop.”
People dying by their own hand. Even the idea of it. To sell a car.
I don’t have a good ending for this column. Let’s just say that more lives have been touched by suicide than we can possibly know. And if hundreds of people can come together in an effort to sell — I can’t even say it — then perhaps the late Pope John Paul II was right when he warned of an advancing culture of death.
Let us work resolutely against such a thing.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr