Korean carmaker Hyundai has pulled a World Cup-themed TV ad after an outcry from Catholic advocates who called the spot sacrilegious and offensive. The 30-second ad, which aired during the the England-USA soccer match on Saturday, features a church in Argentina that apparently worships soccer -- and more specifically soccer legend Diego Maradona.
The ad spot depicts a church service with religiously charged imagery, including a soccer ball with a crown of thorns and worshipers kneeling as they receive pizza for communion.
"All over the world, soccer is almost a religion," intones the spot's narrarator, actor Jeff Bridges, "but for the members of one church in Argentina, it actually is."
Fake Church, Real Offense
Clearly designed to be humorous, the spot, called "Wedding," missed the mark -- widely -- outraging Catholic advocates and bloggers. "Believe it or not, in honor of the World Cup, Hyundai has managed to produce a commercial that many of the world's 1 billion Catholics will find offensive," wrote Tim Drake, a senior writer with the National Catholic Register.
"It's one thing to gently poke fun at extreme devotion to sports," Deacon Greg Kandra wrote on Beliefnet.com. "It's another to satirize Holy Mass by ridiculing its symbols, sacramentals and gestures."
Hyundai said the ad was based on an actual church in Rosario, Argentina, called Iglesia Maradoniana, which is dedicated to retired soccer star Diego Maradona. A 2002 BBC article said the house of "worship" was called the "Hand of God" Temple, after Maradona's infamous 1986 goal against England.
Hyundai said it meant no offense but rather intended to humorously connect the "passion of soccer fans with owner loyalty."
Viral Marketing a "Calculated Risk"
But John Barker, President of Barker/DZP, a New York-based ad agency, says he doesn't buy Hyundai's claim. "I think it's a stretch if the marketer says no offense was intended," Barker tells DailyFinance. "That's probably not intellectually honest."
"There's no way Hyundai couldn't predict a scandal of sorts," Barker says. "It's a calculated risk based on the value of viral media. Controversy is one of the elements that drives video-sharing in social media, and humor is another. So it stands to reason that controversial humor is a good way to ensure viral value."
On Monday, Hyundai apologized for the ad and said it had been taken off the air. "We got enough of an outcry that we think we missed the mark," a Hyundai spokesman tells DailyFinance. "So we're going to do the right thing and pull it down."
In a statement, the company said: "The unexpected response created by the ad, which combined both soccer and religious motifs to speak to the passion of international soccer fans, prompted us to take a more critical and informed look at the spot. Though unintentional, we now see it was insensitive. We appreciate this feedback and sincerely apologize to those we've offended."
"Deeply Anti-Christian and Anti-Catholic"?
Drake, of the National Catholic Register, called the Hyundai ad part of a larger anti-Catholic trend in the advertising world.
"Make no mistake," he wrote. "There is a deeply anti-Christian and anti-Catholic philosophy that has infiltrated Madison Avenue. It's apparent in much of the atheistic programming and the commercials being produced. Some will be provoked to say, 'Lighten up -- it's just a commercial.' Yet, if the Jewish Star of David or the Koran were being so belittled, the outrage would be tremendous."
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