#PRFail: Honda Falls Asleep at the Wheel Joking About Narcolepsy

July 5, 2014

I could write about this in our mediabistro sister blog over at AgencySpy, but why? This is such a #PRFail! This all comes down to a car company and the ineptitude to learn something — say about “narcolepsy.” Allow me:

nar-co-lep-sy /ˈnärkəˌlepsē/ (n.) 

A serious condition characterized by an extreme tendency to fall asleep whenever in relaxing surroundings

So, there’s this up-and-coming car manufacturer named Honda. Someone in the advertising agency or in-house decided it was time to promote the “All-New 2015 Fit” with a commercial called Synth and Seattleites. 

And then, they poked fun at narcolepsy. To wit, Honda got run over by a bunch of people they apparently didn’t know existed. You know? Like the chupacabra, Bigfoot, and unicorns, only much meaner.

Based on the story from the IBTimes, the commercial is part of Honda’s new “Fit for You” campaign, which is aimed at making the brand more appealing to millennials. (Strange for the ‘Fit,’ which is too small to live in, but I digress…)

The spot in question features a montage of hip young consumers discussing various aspects of the 2015 Honda Fit. In one scene, a man says, “I suffer from a condition called narc …” and then suddenly dozes off. Afterward, the commercial’s narrator responds, “You probably shouldn’t be driving.”

Meet Julie Flygare. She suffers from narcolepsy and wrote a book entitled Wide Awake and Dreaming: A Memoir of NarcolepsyShe didn’t find much humor in the ad. In fact, she felt just the opposite, so she started a petition on to shut it down.

“While I can forgive individuals for having misconceptions, I cannot forgive Honda’s marketing team who has the resources to learn about their customer base before launching a major media campaign,” Flygare wrote.

And *BOOM* went the dynamite. The petition was filled. The ad was made private and then removed. And an important cause has a champion. Oh, and Honda apologized (thanks to the Narcolepsy Network):

In a series of ads for the 2015 Honda Fit, the company attempted to demonstrate how the Fit answers the needs of the customer in a very direct, yet humorous way. One ad in particular addressed narcolepsy in a manner that is insensitive. We have heard from those with the disorder and understand their concerns with our positioning of narcolepsy within the ad. To that end, Honda has pulled the ad from its YouTube channel and will not air the “Synth in Seattlites” ad with any reference to narcolepsy on television. We apologize to those who are living with and managing this disorder each day. Please know that Honda did not intend to hurt those affected by the condition.

Of course you didn’t. No one does (when they get caught). While cancer, multiple sclerosis, or cystic fibrosis would never be considered comic relief in a national ad, it is no surprise that a disorder people don’t understand gets targeted. I get it because I’m the opposite of Julie — I can’t sleep, as in clinical insomniac.

It sucks but my joke (and defense mechanism) is I usually get my work done. Good for Julie Flygare and the #PRWin. More people should understand what they don’t understand.

Oh, and they can drive. So can I. Just putting that out there in case Nissan is up to something.


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