Hyundai ad touts great innovation with poor taste?

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Comment by Michael B. Moore on May 1, 2013 at 9:54am

Here’s an arresting ad from Hyundai.  Apparently, they've got a new vehicle with 100% water emissions.  Not just low emissions, NO noxious emissions!   What better way to drive home the news of the innovation than with a creative  emotionally resonant ad, right?  There's been LOTS of criticism of this spot.  Obviously, it tackles a topic that many will be offended by, notwithstanding the fact that many other car companies have done almost the exact same ad.  Let's dissect the advertising a bit then deal with it holistically.

Here’s what I appreciate about it strategically.  First, is its emotional power.  It accomplishes what an ad is supposed to; it draws you in and emotionally connects you to the character and the story.  We see the protagonist and, with each frame, learn more of his apparent intent to commit suicide.  We see the elaborate tubing and the duct tape.  We commiserate with his drawn, “worn” visage.  When he closes his eyes, we uncomfortably wonder if its for the last time.  The ad has a great build, creating real tension.  We wonder what’s going to happen and why.


Like in a well done movie, great advertising creates tension via its story and characters.  It taps into our natural empathic instincts to connect us to what’s being presented.  It makes us care about both strangers and sometimes strange things in ways that can be profound.   Effective advertising goes beyond merely telling interesting stories, though, to present the brand and product as the unique solutions to the problem of the ad.  Although perhaps 'over the top', structurally this Hyundai commercial is a powerful execution of this concept.  Why is this ad showing someone committing suicide?  Is he really killing himself?  Is he dead?    What’s the point?  What drove him to this?   Etc.  We want to know!


When the garage door opens and the character walks out, there is real relief.  When we learn that his life is as a result of a Hyundai vehicle with 100% water emissions, many will be moved to want to learn more. 

The story made me care about the character.  It’s resolution made me want to better understand the technology behind his salvation.  


It’s interesting to note that this ad is gathering some viral momentum as we speak.  I understand its been banned (or otherwise removed) from the air.  This will, no doubt, contribute to its buzz.  Furthermore, there's something of a unanimous online opinion that Hyundai crossed the line into inappropriate territory with this.  It's certainly a harsh and perhaps even unpleasant way to deliver the point.  One can certainly ask if suicide is ever an appropriate topic with which to sell cars.  It's also interesting to see that others have executed very similar ideas to get the point across about clean emissions.

Sensibility aside for a moment, the ad does some things well.  It taps into real emotion.  It presents its product in a unique way.  The Big Creative Idea is compelling, albeit macabre. I guess the obvious question is - at what cost?  It will be interesting to track how opinion in social media continues to evolve about this.


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