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Hypocrisy in AdLand: Ads & Death
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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We usually try to stay silent while the "crowd" carries on shouting their shame and disgust at a certain piece of creative, but for some reason this one hit a nerve.

Hyundai recently created an ad in the UK that showed a man trying to commit suicide. Alas, he couldn't, because the car emits 100% water emissions, leaving all the harmful stuff out.

So he walks away, alive.

But due to all the banter across the internet, the ad is pretty much dead on arrival.

A blogger wrote an open letter to the in-house agency and Hyundai exclaiming their extreme disappointment and pain watching the ad, revealed that their dad died of suicide, and shamed Hyundai for making light of it. AdAge, the Google+ Advertising community, and many others around the world decided to chip in and hurl their disgust and displeasure at Hyundai and the agency.

Color us crazy, but was it not too long ago that this little gem went viral, and people loved this? 

Dumb ways to die.

The main message was that getting hit by a train is stupid, so they talked about ways people die that are not very smart.

In the U.S., about 1,000 people die a year by getting hit by a train.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, approx. 2,000 suicides are done by intentional carbon monoxide poisoning.

In the wide scheme of things (goodness forbid we look at the big picture) those are relatively small numbers. Suicide ranks as the seventh-leading cause of death for males and 15th for females. 

We're not saying that suicide isn't a touchy subject, we're questioning the pointed fingers and the outrage directed at Hyundai and its agency.

Instead of an actual man, what if Hyundai used cuddly animated creatures and a toy car? Would it then be heralded as a humorous ad? The "Dumb Ways to Die" ad removed the reality of death, therefore many of us were able to laugh at it. But what if they used actual people acting out the scenes?

Not so cuddly and cute anymore.

We're not saying that Hyundai's ad was ill-prepared, but we're not saying it wasn't a bad idea either. We wish we had the insight of everyone else condemning these guys; maybe they have some inside information that we were unable to find.

We live in an environment where "shock and awe" gets eyeballs. No doubt Hyundai thought using a human in their ad and showing the preparation of suicide would gather attention. They were dead on. 

If Hyundai created an ad that just said its new car had 100% water emissions, who would care? Instead, the brand made it quite real.

Due to the public outcry, Hyundai cowered under pressure and released a statement that it will pull the ad and offered apologies to whoever it offended.

How interesting.

What if Hyundai went on the defensive? If they stuck with the ad, and said, "if you don't like the ad, change the channel." Yes, there are some ads in the UK that have warnings before them saying that there are some graphic scenes, and change the channel now if you don't want to see it. Would that have worked?

Or, are we a society that searches for injury, searches for reasons to get all worked up, and advertising is the perfect channel?

Except when we use cuddly animals and animation, of course.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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