Can shock advertising shock too much?

Shock advertising is an old trick. Companies create adverts that are purely design to shock a viewer to the point that they remember the company or the product. It’s a trick that has been used thousands of times and can be very successful, but occasionally companies can push it over the edge and go a little bit too far with the shock factor.


At the end of last month Hyundai attempted an advertising stunt that threw them right into the public eye; but hardly for all the right reasons. The 60 second advertisement, entitled ‘Pipe Job’ depicts a despondent man attempting to commit suicide by starting his Hyundai iX35 inside of his closed garage. This plan is foiled though; due to the fact that one of the main byproducts of Hyundai emissions is harmless water, therefore the fumes are innocuous.


Rather than spreading the word of Hyundai’s clean engines, the advert went viral for other reasons. The advert was shared thousands of times amidst Tweets that they had gone too far with the attempt to shock advertise. As a result Hyundai recalled the advert but not after severe damage had been done. One person especially afflicted by the advertisement was London advertising copywriter, Holly Brockwell who posted on her blog,┬áCopybot.


“When your ad started to play, and I saw the beautifully-shot scenes of taped-up car windows with exhaust feeding in, I began to shake. I shook so hard that I had to put down my drink before I spilt it. And then I started to cry. I remembered looking out of the window to see the police and ambulance, wondering what was happening. I remember mum sitting me down to explain that daddy had gone to sleep and would not be waking up, and no, he wouldn’t be able to take me to my friend’s birthday party next week. No, he couldn’t come back from heaven just for that day, but he would like to if he could. I remember finding out that he had died holding my sister’s soft toy rabbit in his lap.”


Though Hyundai issued an apology for the advertisement it won’t quite make up for the callous and insensitive decision to air the advertisement. Hyundai have demonstrated perfectly that sometimes going for the shock factor can go a little too far; yes the advert has been remembered but it won’t help any sales.


It just goes to show that sometimes in the hunt to gain recognition, companies often forget the golden rule of advertising; to make your audience want to buy you and your product.