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

David Kiley

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? Careerbuilder.com 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.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.