One Bad Ad: Hyundai’s unfortunate blunder

Every once in a while an ad catches my attention, either because it’s unusually clever – or unusually bad. Like the ad released last April in the UK by Hyundai Motors. To me, the story is doubly tragic. I’m saddened by the insensitive depiction of human tragedy for no other purpose than to promote a product. And I’m disheartened that the world’s first mass-produced, zero-emissions, hydrogen fuel cell vehicle’s marketplace debut had to be marred with such negative psychology.

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The Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell is the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen powered vehicle. Will it survive the negative press generated by its debut UK television ad?

I don’t always keep abreast of image advertising, since I’m more involved in the content marketing and direct response arenas. But every once in a while an ad catches my attention, either because it’s unusually clever – or unusually bad.

Sometimes, bad ads can be (painfully) fun to view. Sort of like watching an old Godzilla movie.

But others are just plain tasteless. Like the ad released last April in the UK by Hyundai Motors, depicting a man attempting to commit suicide by piping his exhaust fumes back into the passenger compartment of his car. At the end, he is unsuccessful because – ha, ha! he owns a Hyundai zero-emissions vehicle.

(I decided not to include the video in this post because I don’t want anything that crass on my blog, but if you really must see for yourself, you can do so here.)

Was Hyundai expecting their “clever ad” to go viral and result in blockbuster sales of zero-emissions cars to people wanting to protect their loved ones from suicide?

Or maybe the brand simply had a death wish. Because the ad did go viral, thanks in large part to Holly Brockwell. The U.K. copywriter wrote a tearful and outraged blog post raking Hyundai and its advertising agency, Innocean, over the coals for making her relive her father’s suicide using the same method depicted in the ad.

“I understand better than most people the need to do something newsworthy, something talkable, even something outrageous to get those all-important viewing figures,” Holly wrote. “What I don’t understand is why a group of strangers have just brought me to tears in order to sell me a car. Why I had to be reminded of the awful moment I knew I’d never see my dad again, and the moments since that he hasn’t been there.”

Why, indeed?

To me, the story is doubly tragic. I’m saddened by the insensitive depiction of human tragedy for no other purpose than to promote a product. And I’m disheartened that the world’s first mass-produced, zero-emissions, hydrogen fuel cell vehicle’s marketplace debut had to be marred with such negative psychology.

I’ve said it before, and this incident brings it home: harping on the negative does nothing to promote green products. People want to feel good about what they buy. Who can feel good about a car that conjures up images of attempted suicide?

There’s one more thing that has me scratching my head – Hyundai’s statement after pulling the ad:

The ad was created by an affiliate advertising agency, Innocean Europe, without Hyundai’s request or approval. 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.

What? The ad was created and aired without Hyundai’s request or approval? Huh? I find it awfully hard to believe that Innocean could or would create and run a major television ad without at least a nod from its client. And if so, then shame on Hyundai.

Hyundai slipped up bad by allowing an ad agency that obviously doesn’t have a clue about green marketing psychology (nor, apparently, human decency) to represent their brand. And they slipped up again by neglecting to protect their own reputation and values, and then attempting to shift the blame.

I don’t mean to come down too hard on Hyundai. The company has an exemplary diversity policy, has donated millions to charitable causes, and is a pioneer in eco-aware vehicle manufacturing. I just want to point out that in green marketing, (and increasingly in all marketing), it’s so important to talk your walk as well as walk your talk.

Turn Your Disposal Problems into Goodwill and Publicity With Eco Apprentice

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EcoApprentice is a cool new app that lets innovative thinkers help companies solve their sustainability challenges.

Ever stand around scratching your head, wondering what on earth to do with (fill in the blank with your own biggest disposal problem)? Nearly every business has such a problem: those odd byproducts of existence that pile up in our offices, warehouses and yards. Like used sandpaper, worn out bike tubes, or leftover bits of soap.

Most companies simply throw them away. But conventional waste disposal can be costly, and it’s certainly not sustainable. A better option is to figure out some way to put the items to use.

The question is, how? If you have a problem like this, you’ve probably already spent a lot of time racking your brain for a solution. In the mean time, the stuff just keeps piling up.

Fortunately, there’s a new application which may be able to help. It’s called EcoApprentice, it’s very easy to use, and (for the time being at least) it’s free. (Founder Richard Halpern says, “My expectation is it will always be free for schools, non-profits, and small businesses.” Cool.) You just sign up as a member (there’s no charge for this) and post your problem as an EcoChallenge.

It’s also a good idea to offer a prize for the winning solution. This doesn’t have to be anything huge. Most businesses offer something that’s easy for them to give. For example, Truce Designs, LLC is offering one of their tote bags as a prize for whomever can help them sustainably dispose of their scrap fabric and foam. Balch hotel owner Sandra Irwin offered a night’s stay and breakfast, or a huge batch of chocolate chip cookies to the winner of her challenge to figure out what to do with little bits of leftover soap. And (attention students!) waste-reduction company TerraCycle is offering an internship to whomever can come up with ways to effectively recycle used sandpaper.

Once you’ve posted your challenge on EcoApprentice, all you have to do is sit back and wait for the solutions to roll in. The time this takes can vary according to the difficulty of the problem. When someone suggests a solution you like, you declare them the winner!

Of course, there are winners all round. You win by finally getting rid of that gnarly problem (and perhaps a whole pile of accumulated waste.) Depending on the solution involved, your community or another business may win by making profitable use of your unwanted stuff. And the planet enjoys a lightened load and the spreading of eco-awareness.

Speaking of awareness, extend your winnings by using your EcoApprentice.com experience to generate publicity for your business. Journalists are always looking for newsworthy items, and innovative waste-reduction solutions certainly count – especially if they benefit the community, too. Be sure to send out a press release (contact me if you’d like assistance), and let your current customers know, too, that your company has just turned a shade deeper green.

Make your Green Marketing Fun!

How to educate your customers effectively without causing confusion or turning them off

Part 4: Make it Fun!

As people become more aware of the problems facing the environment, they begin to feel guilty.  They often react by going into denial or shutting out the bad news.  This can easily result in their shutting you out as well.  Overcome this problem by making your presentation interesting and fun.

Annie Leonard’s eco-educational films are a great example.  Using storytelling, engaging animation and generous doses of humor and hope, she manages to address very serious environmental problems in an engaging, entertaining and informative way.  (By the way, Leonard’s Story of Stuff and other works are also a great example of messaging that creates a buzz and spreads virally like wildfire.)

Try integrating stories, contests, events, jokes, food and the arts into your Green marketing.  Involve your customers.   Ask them to invite a friend.  Don’t be afraid to do the outrageous, if it’s consistent with your personality.  And by all means have fun yourself! People who are having fun are invariably attractive to others.  You’ve doubtless noticed this fact at social gatherings, right?  The same is true in business!