Hyundai: Ethics Corrupter

As we try to build an ethical culture, it doesn’t help to have amoral corporations employing ethics-challenged advertising flacks to send America toxic messages about honesty and trust. Hyundai, in its campaign for the 2013 Santa Fe, represents family members keeping secrets from each other and parents enlisting their children as accomplices in lies as funny, normal and cute. “Don’t tell mom,” a father orders, in the midst of a movie that will give his young children nightmares, and other misadventures (including one incident of father-led vandalism.). “Don’t tell Dad,” says Mom, after taking her son parasailing. I’m presuming she’ll have to tell him when her son breaks his neck on their next flight.

The ad models damaging conduct and miserable parenting, while presenting trust as an obstacle to be manipulated rather than a value to be nourished. It celebrates lying and conspiracy as legitimate and useful tools of accountability avoidance. This may well be how Hyundai executives treat their spouses and rear their kids, as well as the practice of the soulless Madison Ave. geniuses helping them pedal this cultural poison. For the rest of us, however, these are commercials that should be vanquished as quickly and with as much prejudice as a racist screed or pornography, if children are in viewing range. Insidious messages like this can stick, and the casual acceptance of deception and betrayals of those who trust is a habit to be avoided more than smoking or procrastination.

Hyundai is behaving like an irresponsible corporate citizen, not to mention an ethics corrupter, by running such a vile ad. Tell Mom and Dad not to let their kids see it.

29 thoughts on “Hyundai: Ethics Corrupter

  1. Honestly: I’ve seen the ad and love it. I don’t think it endorses the unethical “Don’t tell [the other parent];” I think it merely presents a ticklishly overdone picture of what has always been and always will be. It’s going to remain an ethically imperfect world. If I had little kids all over again and this commercial flew into their faces, Mom and I would be standing there together watching the ad with them, and admonishing them that “Mom and Dad keep no secrets from each other.” The kids would know that they would never hear either of us say what the parents say in the ad, at least, not in the situations the ad shows. They would further be encouraged that part of trusting each other as siblings includes not keeping secrets from each other, especially not the “I broke your toy” kind. Don’t-tells might be part of a surprise gift, for example, but not for very much if anything else.

      • You must be referring to the Futility Illusion. The difference is, I was making the statement only to declare a general truth, not to rationalize any specific unethical behavior. The rest of what I said backs that up. I think you’re jumping to a conclusion that a depiction of unethical behavior is necessarily going to have the effect of proliferating rather than diminishing the same.

        • That, and “Nobody’s perfect” and the “Trivial Trap,” and the Sippery Slope, and more. “Hey, lighten up, we can’t do the right thing all the time!” is really a call to not even try. The kids are actively being rewarded for withholding information from their mother (all that ice cream), and the whole thrust of the ad is that the conspiracy is exciting and fun. We construct our culture from millions of “yea” and “nays” to potential conduct norms, and pop culture and commercial messaging are powerful participants and factors. The tiny bits ad up.

          • Well, a conspiracy CAN be exciting and fun, as can busting one. It’s hard for me to imagine a kid who would NEVER tell Mom that Dad gave the kid that huge bowl of ice cream, even at Dad’s urging to keep the secret. I actually cannot imagine a kid watching that commercial and thinking, “Oh yeah, I gotta remember that Dad said not to tell Mom about [X].” When parents try to keep secrets from each other using kids, the parents fail, typically. Kids, on the other hand, typically figure out how to be most skillful at keeping secrets from both their parents.

            • Another aspect of the commercial that is reviling, is the subtle attack on legitimate authority.

              The “its all in good fun” line doesn’t cut it. All in good fun does not include vandalizing or lying. If it must be kept from one parent, then one parent must not feel the behavior to be wholesome to the creation of a responsible adult. And face it, that is the PRIMARY and overarching goal of ALL responsible parents: to produce responsible adults.

              I’ve heard parents say their goal is to get their kids to love them or make their kids happy. WRONG! Those are all worthy and desireable results from raising a child properly, but they are symptoms of proper parenting, not objectives. I’d submit that if you raise a child with the primary goal of making them love you and making them happy, you will fail at both and producing a failing adult.

              As for the “its an unethical world and nobody is perfect” excuse to LOWER the standards. WRONG! The reason standards are set so impossibly high, is so that, even in our imperfect behavior, maybe we hit at least 90% on the ‘goodness’ scale and the 10% of our infractions are so minor that they are forgiveable and amendable.

              What happens with the “take it easy man, its not that big of a deal” excuse? You’ve taken the ‘just good enough’ 80% standard and made that the MAXIMUM goal. What happens then is imperfect people will behave even more poorly and justify that as “just good enough”.

  2. Maybe I’m missing something, Jack, but it appears that the ad was mainly just harmless silliness. Even young kids would likely realize that this is no more real than an episode of “I Love Lucy”. I understand that the concept of parents telling their children, “Don’t tell mom/dad” is basically wrong, but the depictions of WHAT they’re doing that the other parent shouldn’t know about is the sheerest childhood fantasy. Those children eating a small tub of ice cream, for example. Not gonna happen. Paragliding? In their dreams! In the meantime, however, a nice, modern SUV would be cool. My sister took us to dinner last week in exactly that make of vehicle- brand new. Impressive.

    • My parents, babysitting my son when he was a toddler, took him out of the house in a car without a proper car seat, and engineered a cover-up by telling him not to tell his mother. He told. My wife never let them babysit him again.
      The ad is not as harmless or as fanciful as you make it out to be.

  3. Thank you – I was revolted when I first saw this ad, but I found it hard to express how vile I found an ad showing happy, smiling people having crazy fun and teaching their children to lie about it. And it’s followed up by the next shot of joy – “Don’t tell mom” segues directly into a shot of kids with giant ice cream sundays, creating a connection in my kid’s mind of rewarding the lies. Those parents are REALLY going to have a fun time once those kids become teenagers, and it becomes “don’t tell mom OR dad.”

    The hardest part was accepting that I did find it vile, without feeling stupid for having missed the joke or taking it too seriously or even sounding stodgy for believing that a stupid car ad could ever actually mean anything. A lot like when I complain about the oafish portrayal of Fathers on TV – no one seems to care, and I become the man ranting on the corner. Sad days, when actually caring about the family feels wrong.

  4. The ad is funny. It, and popular entertainment going back to when cavemen made shadow puppets on the walls, is not real life . Its sole responsibility is to entertain the masses , get them talking about their product and hopefully increase sales. Holding them responsible for a negative message to kids is as bad as holding the Three Stooges reasonable for stupid kids poking each other in the eyes.

  5. Of they they did , becuase they were stupid.

    Its an AD not a life lesson. Most kids today know its just entertainment. The only one who seems to be taking it seriously is you.

  6. As one parent in a happy, two-parent household, it is inconceivable to me that either my husband or me would tell our son not to tell the other parent anything. In our home, punishment for unacceptable behavior is a joint decision, and our son knows well that it is best to be honest, up front, and straightforward about his behavior or any incident that may be unacceptable within our family’s ethical and moral framework. It is equally unacceptable that either his Dad or I would engage him in activity that we know the other would have objection. As luck would have it, our son views all TV — especially advertisements — as pure B.S. or fantasy, and doesn’t take any of it seriously. Frankly, I think most kids are the same: it’s the parents I worry about, because ads like this can only assist dysfunctional families — and there are many — in their unhealthy behavior.

    • There are a lot of such kids’ foibles that have to be taken with a grain of humor. Subaru, to its credit, put out an absolutely charming and educational ad about a man’s daughter taking her first solo drive.

    • The link above did not work for me, but I believe I know which ad you mean:

      Definitely a better ad than the Hyundai one. I swear, somebody eavesdropped on the exact same moment I had with my daughter, and used it for the ad, script and all (just a different car) – even picked actresses with amazing resemblances to my girl – waters my eyes.

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