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Hyundai apologizes for suicide-themed car ad

An image from the controversial ad, which employs images of a man appearing to commit suicide, that agency Innocean produced for Hyundai U.K.

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Hyundai has apologized on social media for a shocking ad that used the prospect of suicide to sell the features of a new car.

The ad, which has been pulled from YouTube by the company, showed a man inside the new ix35, with the windows taped up an a hose feeding fumes from the exhaust pipe into the car. The ad ends with the man walking away from the car; the message being that the carbon monoxide emissions are so low, they will not kill you.

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The shock of using a suicide scene to market a product should be self-evident, but no one explains the offense better than Holly Brockwell, a London-based advertising copywriter whose father killed himself in their family car.

Ms. Brockwell wrote about the experience in a blog post on Thursday entitled "An open letter to Innocean and Hyundai" (Innocean is the car maker's ad agency).

"I'd like to ask that next time you want to tell the world about a new innovation in car design, you think about it for a little bit longer. Think about me. Think about my dad. And the thousands of other suicide victims and the families they left behind," the heart-rending post concluded. "My dad never drove a Hyundai. Thanks to you, neither will I."

On Thursday afternoon, the company released a statement saying that its advertising agency, Innocean Europe, had produced the ad "without Hyundai's request or approval." (Hyundai Motor Group owns 30 per cent of Innocean Worldwide Americas LLC. )

The production of an ad without multiple levels of approvals – including for posting on social media and other websites – is highly unusual in the marketing world.

"It runs counter to our values as a company and as members of the community. We are very sorry for any offense or distress the video caused," a statement from Hyundai's global headquarters said. "More to the point, Hyundai apologizes to those who have been personally impacted by tragedy."

In an email on Friday, Innocean confirmed that it produced the film without approval from the client.

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"The film was designed to creatively dramatize the technical strength of the vehicle featured.  Clearly we misjudged consumer sentiment," wrote Peter Kwan, the senior manager of the global corporate planning team at Innocean Worldwide in South Korea. "Innocean Worldwide Europe has already issued a formal statement of apology and every effort has been made to withdraw the film.

Innocean Worldwide deeply apologizes for this incident and would like to express our sincere apology to the public for any distress caused."

Mr. Kwan added that the agency will try to learn from the incident, and to foster greater understanding of consumers.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article referenced CO2 (or carbon dioxide) emissions, instead of carbon monoxide emissions. This version has been corrected.

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