Friday, February 23, 2007

VW follows GM, pulls its suicide-themed TV ad

Friday, February 16, 2007
VW follows GM, pulls its suicide-themed TV ad
Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

Politically correct it isn't.

But as an attention-grabbing marketing gimmick, suicide in ads is getting the job done in the auto industry.

A week after complaints from suicide prevention advocates led General Motors Corp. to alter its now infamous suicidal robot commercial, German automaker Volkswagen AG agreed Thursday to pull a similarly themed spot.

The VW ad, titled "Jumper," features a man on the verge of throwing himself from a high ledge, complete with shocked crowd gathered below. A stranger dissuades the man by telling him it's possible to own a VW vehicle for less than $17,000.

Advocacy groups called both television ads callous and said they undermine the seriousness of suicide.

The folks at VW say they never intended to offend. The spot was meant to illustrate that "optimism over the VW brand can prevail over despair," spokesman Keith Price said.

Even so, the German automaker apologized Thursday and pulled the ad from airwaves.

Price argued that the VW ad is not the same as the GM spot, in which a robot, during a dream sequence, jumps from a bridge after being fired for making a mistake on the line. The ad was intended to highlight GM's five-year/100,000 mile warranty. "We see it as a very different portrayal," Price said of the VW spot.

Being like GM, however, might not be so bad in this case.

For as GM's marketing minds rework the robot ad, the original version is circulating widely on the Internet and generating mostly positive reviews. Rogue clips have been viewed more than 182,000 times on the video sharing Web site YouTube, generating an average rating of 3 1/2 out of five stars. Before GM pulled the ad it authorized on YouTube last week, it generated 300,000 views there.

The robot proved so popular, word is GM wants to bring it back for future commercials.

"They're bringing the robot back as an emblem of GM quality," said Greg Solman, West Coast editor of Adweek.

GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney wouldn't confirm that, but did say it expects to air the ad, minus the suicide scene, during the Feb. 25 Academy Awards broadcast.

Solman said suicide has long been an effective and accepted comedic tool.

"Even though it's dicey territory, there's a long comic tradition that includes themes of 'woe is me' and contemplating suicide," he said. "To have made an entertaining commercial out of a 100,000-mile warranty is a creative coup -- not something to be condemned."

You can reach Sharon Terlep at (313)223-4686 or

© Copyright 2007 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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