Suicide by asphyxiation is what the above ad from Hyundai seems intended to communicate. According to NBC News, the ad was intended for the Internet for U.K. audiences; today the carmaker reportedly apologized for the ad and has pulled it. Not surprisingly, the ad has evoked emotional reactions. Science author Ben Goldacre described the ad as being “almost surreally misguided.” The most gut-wrenching response, however, came from London-based advertising copywriter Holly Brockwell, whose father apparently committed suicide in the same way as depicted in the ad. She writes, “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.” How awful.

The ad was apparently intended to inform consumers that the ix35 SUV produces only water vapors from its exhaust. So why use this approach? Didn’t anyone at Hyundai’s agency, Innocean, stop to think about how appropriate this narrative was? That it was possibly in bad taste?

As we’ve seen in the Ford India ads in which creatives “showed off [their] creative chops,” advertising art directors and copywriters are often compelled to demonstrate that they can push the creative envelope. No doubt the creatives at Innocean thought that this execution was clever, probably even hilarious. But in “pushing the creative envelope” it seems that creatives need to remember that they need not push the moral envelope. One look at the apparent suicide note that Brockwell posted on her blog should be enough to convince them of that.

Thanks to Ian Lueninghoener for the tip.

Update (April 26, 2013): The ad seems to have been pulled from personal YouTube channels, so Information Ethics Report seems to be one of the last places you can still see it.

Sources: Holly Brockwell,, Ben Goldacre,

11 thoughts on “Hyundai Suicide Ad Draws Visceral Reactions

  1. A good rule of thumb is that if you need to put a trigger warning in front of it(and I think this commercial definitely needed a trigger warning,) then you should probably realize it’s a bad choice. I can’t even imagine their thought process. The music? The Close-up shots of him closing his eyes and his body going more relaxed? Jeeze.

  2. What in the HELL where they thinking?!?! There are a dozen better ways to promote 100% water emissions than “failed suicide attempt.” Clearly no one involved in creating this ad had ever known anyone who committed suicide or even attempted. The way they shot the scene with the music was like something out of a horror movie. I can’t say it enough how ungodly inappropriate this is. Just plain sick.

  3. I don’t understand either, Emily. My sense is that advertising art directors and copywriters sometimes feel they have some right to boldly flex the bounds of good taste by dint of their considerable talents. They have every right to be proud of work they do; but shouldn’t be proud that some of this work can be very upsetting to others.

  4. I about shipped my pants watching that poor excuse of an ad. Seriously, there is clever (thanks KMart), and then there is a desperate misguided attempt for attention. Shame on Hyundai.

  5. … I hate to say this, but some have called it a “fantastic” ad in the media. I couldn’t believe it, but apparently The Guardian’s online website praised the ad before being forced to remove the article with an apology (lol). In addition, a website called “The Drum” has it as it’s ad of the day feature, but unlike the idiots at Guardian, this site REVELS in its stupidity and makes no apologies. Don’t believe me? Here’s the link, try and keep from vomitting over their gushing of how “clever” Hyundai is, if you can:

  6. Unbelievable. This reminds me of something a friend of mine used to say: “The two most common elements on the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.” Thanks for sharing the URL and for your comment, Autumn!

  7. Have you seen Mountain Dew’s glorification of domestic abuse, goat in a “thug” line-up, gem of a commercial? Seriously? People literally get paid six figures to be that stupid and insensitive?

  8. Oh my, Heidi. Wow. Thanks for sharing. I guess it’s OK to produce a racially and sexually insensitive ad if you’re a rapper. OK, so I guess the dudes in the lineup are from the same hip-hop group called Odd Future. But that certainly doesn’t make it ethical.

    Thanks for sharing, Heidi. I’ll post it later today!

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