South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co has been forced to apologise for an advertisement that sought to promote the zero carbon emissions of one of its cars by featuring a man failing to commit suicide using a hose attached to the exhaust.
The ad debacle is the latest to hit the carmaker, the world's fifth largest by sales when combined with its Kia Motors affiliate, after it exaggerated fuel performance figures in the United States, and announced a large-scale vehicle recall this month.
The South Korean company scrambled to limit the damage from the advertisement, which was pulled.
It was made by the European unit of Innocean Worldwide Corp, an in-house advertising firm that is 40 percent owned by Chung Sung-yi, a daughter of Hyundai Motor Group chairman Chung Mong-koo.
Hyundai Motor and Innocean said they "deeply and sincerely apologize for any offense or distress" that the posting of the "viral film", aimed at a European audience, may have caused.
The YouTube ad for Hyundai's hydrogen-powered car ix35 featured a middle-aged man attempting to commit suicide by sitting in his car with a hose connected to its exhaust pipe feeding into the car's interior.
He failed to kill himself because the car had "100 percent water emissions," according to the advert.
Holly Brockwell, who identified herself as a digital copywriter in London, wrote on her blog that she felt "sick" after watching the advert, saying her father had committed suicide when she was a child.
"I understand better than most people the need to do ... something talkable, even something outrageous to get those all-important viewing figures. What I don't understand is why a group of strangers have just brought me to tears in order to sell me a car," she said in an open letter to Hyundai and Innocean.
"My dad never drove a Hyundai. Thanks to you, neither will I."
Hyundai, led by chairman Chung Mong-koo, has transformed itself from the butt of jokes to a company that has aspirations to match Germany's Volkswagen AG as it seeks to shed its value-for-money image and move upmarket.
Hyundai's crossover ix35 car, which is sold as the Tucson in the United States, will go on sale in Europe by 2015 as the company seeks to leap-frog its competition in the eco-friendly car segment.
Hyundai is not the only carmaker to have run into trouble over its advertisements. Last month, U.S. automaker Ford Motor Co came under fire for sexist adverts in India, prompting an apology from Ford India and the dismissal of employees at an Indian unit of advertising group WPP.