The Art of Brand Suicide. Or how indulgent creatives sometimes go too far.

Shock may work well for artists with little talent because it gets you noticed, but when ad agency creatives indulge themselves with insensitive mock suicide scripts, because they can’t think up a really good idea, you have to question if they should keep their jobs.

Pipe Job (Link to video)

The viral ad, ‘Pipe Job’ for the Hyundai iX35, has backfired and seriously damaged the brand’s reputation. It was created by its South Korean ad agency Innocean (probably would ex agency by now if Hyundai didn’t own them). If I was Hyundai, to repent, I’d sack all involved and give their salaries to the Samaritans.

The ad simulates a man committing suicide… what were the creative department, and the rest of the agency, and the client thinking? Or maybe in South Korea that’s seen as funny.

The script: a middle-aged man, who’s decided to end it all, tapes up the iX35?s tail pipe in a closed garage. A moment later, however, the garage door opens and he walks away, alive. The punchline at the end? “The new iX35 with 100% water emissions.”

It’s now probably one of the top 5 biggest ad mistakes of all time and running ahead of terrorist bomber (the fake VW Polo ad) and Ford’s (it wasn’t use really who made this) ad showing a cat getting it’s head cut off by the electric sun roof. The social media equivalent was the campaign for Dr Pepper where they took over Facebook pages and ended up posting adult content on under 16 year sites. Dooh!

The irony is stupidity often repeats itself, 15 years ago Honda did a similar ad and got in deep water then. So not even an original script.

As if it didn’t get enough outrage, what has really got the most attention is a very moving blog form London based copywriter Holly Brockwell, whose father committed suicide this way.


As 99.9% of viral films never get off the social media launch pad, it’s no surprise brands resort to being controversial, because that’s what often gets people talking. While others have just gone back to using TV because it actually sells a lot better and you don’t end up making gaffs like this.

Of course you’ll always find jerks who will defend these kinds of virals as a dramatic way to get noticed or claiming, “at least it got it’s message across.” Really? Ironically the message was about ethics (reduced pollution) – writing ads about people wanting to kill themselves is not ethical. So what impression that that leave about the brand? Forget ‘Love Brands’, truth ‘Most Hated Brand’.

There is some confusion about the ad being approved. Despite being posted on Hyundai’s official YouTube channel, they claim, “The video was created by an affiliate advertising agency, Innocean Europe, without Hyundai’s request or approval.” Really?

Even the Guardian, who had originally featured it, was forced to take the article down as it was seen as poor judgment.

The mistake, some social media marketing managers make (partly due to having no real broad marketing experience) is thinking that being talked about is the same as selling. Sorry, but chatter isn’t marketing, it’s just noise and often has a lifespan of seconds with no real sales outcome. Ask Guinness, they once commented on a TV documentary about advertising, that people up and down the land were talking about their TV ads…while drinking gin & tonics.

Unless it leads to a sale, it’s vacuous. As Leo Burnett once said, “if it doesn’t sell, it isn’t good creative”. Even if it provides numbers that makes some less smart marketers actually think they are achieving something.

You also need to remember a simple well researched fact, 90% of conversations about brands happen off line not online and when the media picks up the story, the reach is 1000x greater than any social media campaign can ever achieve. In fact a lot of online chatter is a reaction to what is in the media. Which is why we are all talking about it because it’s been on the BBC, in the Telegraph, Metro, Guardian, Mirror, Daily Mail, etc. Now that’s what I call a PR disaster!

Worse, off line (real world) conversations are 10 times more powerful as people discuss rather then just pass comment.

Online chatter: “latest Hyundai ad is shocking.”

Off line chatter: “Have you seen that Hyundai ad Sara?”

“Yes,I read about it in the paper, isn’t it terrible.”

“I can’t believe they did that, it’s disgusting.”

“How could they?”
“Me neither, would you buy one of their cars?

“No way.”

“How about you Sue, Jayne, Fiona…”

“No way.”

“I wouldn’t be seen dead in one.. OMG, did I actually say that?”

This week, by the way, the company announced a 15% drop in first quarter profits. If they think that’s bad, just wait until the next quarter results…

Of course putting aside the tasteless script, associating the brand with a depressed looser, is hardly a smart brand association. I think Hyundai needs to re-evaluate its brand strategy big time, it’s slogan, “New Thinking, New Possibilities” is just waffle. They make great cars and offer fantastic support, but that’s really only a value if people put you on the shopping list rather than the black list.

There is no win for Hyundai here, no matter how they try and spin the facts. Negative press and conversations of disgust about a brand that over steps the line is plain brand suicide.