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VW's Suicide Ad Gets Pulled. What Goes On?

Posted by: David Kiley on February 16, 2007

Last week, GM told suicide prevention groups that it would not pull or change an ad it created, via Deutsch Inc., that depicted a lovable human-like assembly-line robot having a nightmare about jumping off a bridge.

Mental health and suicide prevention groups complained that the ad treated the tragedy of suicide too casually and that it hurt the feelings of families affected by suicide. A day later, after hearing the groups out, GM caved. After all, CNN and FOx were referring to the ad by then as “GM’s Suicide Ad.” Ick. Who wants that?

Then, we got wind that Volkswagen had an ad about to break from Crispin Porter + Bogusky depicting a young man standing on the ledge of a building about to jump. He is seen spouting his unhappiness with the state of the world. Then, he finds out that VWhas three models priced under $17K, and he changes his mind. Ha. ha.

But wait…that’s not all. Washington Mutual has an ad running right now that shows a bunch of bankers standing on top of a building threatening to jump if Washington Mutual doesn’t stop offering free checking and a bunch of the other freebies and great service at no charge. Then, the bankers’ wives are lifted by a crane to the roof imploring their husbands not to jump. “Who will pay for my lipo-suction?,” asks one. Yikes. Stereotypes abound. But again…the suicide shtick.

Had enough? has a suicide themed ad running. In this spot, a bunch of baboons commit mass suicide.

I e-mailed officials at VW and Crispin last Monday asking if they still planned to go through with the VW ad given GM’s experience. They said they were going ahead and that they didn’t agree with the complaints. Oooooookay. But by yesterday afternoon, as I told them they would after the complaints rolled in, VW caved.

The question, which neither Crispin nor VW will answer today for me, is did they go ahead with the spot knowing they would have to pull it down under pressure just as a mans to create “conversation” around the ad? We wrote about the ad in this week’s magazine and ran a screen grab from the VW ad.

Crispin is infamous for this strategy. Not that it’s wrong. They believe, as most agencies do, that the only ads worth running are those that get talked about. It’s the “as long as they are talking about me, just make sure they spell my name right” school of marketing.

It’s hard to believe that they didn’t know they would be subjected to the same pressures as GM.

Since neither side will ‘fess up to why they ran the ad in the first place, I’m left with the conclusion that it was a calculated attempt to create some buzz around the new ad effort, which is meant to inform people that three VWs have starting prices under $17K. It seems most people think of VWs as being priced more than the competition.

In that case, this was a pretty cheesy strategy to create buzz. Offending suicide prevention groups on purpose to get your ad noticed is a bit low-rent.

Reader Comments


February 17, 2007 1:21 AM

"Offending suicide prevention groups to get your ad noticed is a bit low-rent."

they won't really know until they do. Besides, it's amazing what offends people.


February 17, 2007 7:54 PM

VW can talk out of its a$$ all it wants and I still would never buy one of those pieces of junk no matter what strategy used.

Brandon W

February 20, 2007 11:15 AM

I have always felt that the " long as they're talking" marketing tactic is sophomoric if not utterly desperate. Suicide isn't funny. GM may as well send the robot to an incinerator and feature audio of agonizing screams as the robot is burned to death. Homicide is every bit as hilarious (that is to say, not at all). Ad agencies have become desperate to impress clients and advertisers have become desperate to get attention. The result is more than tacky. In fact, it has become so prevalent that a quiet ad talking about the benefits of the product might just get a lot of attention. Hm, oh yeah.... "Mac vs. PC".


February 21, 2007 3:12 PM

I would agree that the reason these types of ads are created is so that people will discuss them.

It reminds me of the commercial where two people are in a car talking and they get crashed into by someone running a red light but they survive because the car is so safe. I can’t remember which company that is…

Either way, every time that commercial comes on, people always end up discussing it and the company. Regardless of the controversy, buzz is definitely created. I don't know if it's the most effective way to sell a product, but then again, I'm in public relations, so that's not quite my shtick.

Making an ad that you know will be controversial enough to get yanked...I guess it can build buzz. The only difference might be that as intense as the crash commercial is, it convinces you of their commitment to safety. These commercials involving suicide? I think it's reaching a little and just comes off as insensitive. Not sure if it really helps sell the product or service.


February 25, 2007 7:57 PM

More than ten people prominent in my life, my father among them, have committed suicide. When I recall family members of friends and coworkers whom have also committed suicide, the losses are overwhelming. The only difference between me and the person standing next to me in any given situation is that, as a member of the silent community of victims, I am aware of the body count.

It’s one thing to suffer insensitive comments or jokes born of ignorance at the individual level, but quite another when they go national. Not only are these ads offensive, but a discouraging indication of how far we have to go in terms of eliminating the stigma and opening the dialogue regarding suicide and depression. It’s also disheartening to consider that more money was likely spent on these ads than was raised by The Overnight, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s annual fundraising walk.

For me, the Washington Mutual ad is the most objectionable, perhaps because it continues to run with alarming frequency. I find it unfathomable that both the ad agency and WaMu found suicide an appropriate subject to sell a product. What target audience is going to find the jokes in this scenario “clever” ? I realize that this is a personal subject for me, but put it in a different context, it’s hard to imagine anyone being a proponent of ads in which AIDS or Breast Cancer were the subject of jokes. I wonder why that is. Certainly, my dead friends and family members aren’t any funnier than anyone elses…


June 1, 2008 10:46 PM

I must say that depictions of suicide and murder for advertising purposes appeals to the lowest common denominator of human intellect, and is certainly deplorable.

Particularlly unflattering is the VW advertisement, which wasn't even talked about in this article; which shows a middle eastern man attempting a car bombing using a VW Polo.

It is an interesting notion this idea of advertising objectionable subjects just for the sake of generating controversey. I think other posters are right, using this tactic only shows that the advertising department of the given company has run out of clever ways to sell their products, and is desparate.

No matter what the motivation behind such ads, it doesn't leave a good taste in the viewer's mouth.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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