In 2013, Hyundai released a viral video advertisement that depicted a man attempting to commit suicide in his car. He gets into the Hyundai in his garage, turns on the engine, and forlornly begins to breathe deep. After about an hour or so, he alights from the car unharmed, with the text over screen that says “The New ix35 With 100% Water Emissions.”



The Anatomy of an Advertising Snafu

See what they did there? You can’t kill yourself with a Hyundai ix35. It only emits H20, not C02. Apparently, there were a few people who lost family members to suicide by asphyxiation who raised their voices rather loudly. Not thousands, mind you. Only, as best I can tell, a handful. Maybe just one.


Breaking Muscle Shop

Nonetheless, Hyundai issued an apology:


Hyundai Motor deeply and sincerely apologizes for the offensive viral film. The film runs counter to our values as a company and as members of the community. We are very sorry for any offense or distress the video caused.


It might have been tempting to say something like, “If insulting the people who have lost family members can save some of the 10,000 Americans who will attempt carbon monoxide poisoning and keep the air clean, so be it.” But, instead, they issued an apology.


Fascinatingly, there are some who think Hyundai and other companies that offend with their advertising do so in a calculated way - that any publicity is good publicity and controversy sells products, or at least raises awareness


 "CrossFit HQ seems to think the only way they can get their message across is to offend." 

For example, no one likes to look at slow-motion images of shivering dogs and cats with open sores to the plaintive strains of Sarah McLachlan, but let’s face it, those ads are embedded in our consciousness. It calls us to action. If people complain, and I am sure some do, the message would certainly be, “Hey, sorry if you don’t like it, but these animals are suffering and we’re here to do something about it.”


But, sometimes, companies just get it wrong. In an attempt to make an impact statement while at the same time capturing the fleeting attention of the viral social media world, messages must get more edgy. As such, they can sometimes offend, and that offense can sometimes lead to product decline.


Coca-Cola and CrossFit

All of this, of course, relates to CrossFit’s Coke tweet and CrossFit’s refusal not only to apologize to those they offended (they flatly refused), but their doubling down on their position with Greg Glassman’s “Fuck Nick Jonas” email to ABC’s Good Morning America.


If you don’t know the story, Nick Jonas was offended by the tweet, responded in kind, and GMA did a story. When asked for a response, Glassman offered his standard Glassman-esque fuck-you-if-you-don’t-like-it response.


tweet, crossfit hq, nick jonas

Photo credit: Nick Jonas Twitter account.


This is an eerily similar position to that of the original CrossFit for Hope poster released by CrossFit in 2012, which depicted a hospital ward full of dying children, splayed out in wagons, and a hot nurse pulling them all along. People screamed about how offensive and gross that poster was. The Naked CrossFitter examined that poster in much more detail and also featured a snippet of Russell Berger’s Facebook comments explaining Glassman’s response.


In both these scenarios, both Berger and Glassman took the standard CrossFit hubristic approach: “I get it - and you don’t. If you’re offended, it’s because you don’t get it.”


crossfit, crossfit hq

Photo credit: the Naked CrossFitter.


The Series of Events

I suspect that in most cases where some sort of message, be it public service or advertisement, greatly offends, it takes the person who conceived the message by surprise. I believe there are very few cases where the original intent was, “Let’s find the most divisive, offensive way to say this because it’s going to really get people talking.”


In the case of the Coke tweet, I think the social media department at CrossFit crafted the message because they thought it would be funny. I think they expected to drop that tweet and then go about their normal course of business peppering Coke, Gatorade, and the ACSM like they normally do.


"There are lots of affiliates who line up solidly behind CFHQ with a 'CrossFit can do no wrong' belief system, and others who struggle constantly with 'corporate.'”

I don’t think they expected the outrage from the type 1 diabetes sufferers. They could not have seen that coming. When it did, they were then faced with a choice: apologize for crossing the line or circle the wagons.


We all know how this story turns out, because CrossFit never, ever apologizes. Why? Because from the top down, they are governed by one thing - hubris. And when hubris is your default, it’s impossible to be introspective enough to ever believe you’ve done something that might call for an apology.


The Problem With That Position

The real problem with that mentality is on the affiliate level. There are lots of affiliates who line up solidly behind CFHQ with a “CrossFit can do no wrong” belief system, and others who struggle constantly with “corporate.” Ultimately, affiliate owners have but one client - the next person who walks through their door. The question is then, is CrossFit HQ helping or hindering John or Jane Q Affiliate in making the sale and closing the deal with the person coming through the door?


Some might argue that CrossFit’s continued explosive growth speaks for itself. Perhaps, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest, and I’ve listened to countless stories from affiliates who tell me this as well, that HQ is not helping the box owner’s cause.


crossfit, crossfit owner

Do the actions of HQ help or hurt affiliate owners and members?


Quite honestly, if I owned an affiliate, the “Fuck Nick Jonas” stance would concern me. Why? Because hubris is rarely rewarded in the long term. Would I rather follow a guy into battle who thinks he is impervious to bullets or one who has a plan to not only win, but keep himself and me safe at the same time? One is reckless. One is smart.


And for each of the “Hell yeah, Greg! Give it to him!” responses to the Jonas comment, I would wager there are two more affiliate owners who are quietly concerned that the old man has finally gone off his rocker. Howard Hughes ruled the world, until he didn’t. Everyone wanted to be on the Enron bus, until the CEO drove it off the mountainside. Hubris is unsustainable.


"What’s odd is that the affiliates are getting caught in the crossfire of a battle being waged on their behalf."  

There are a significant number of CrossFit boxes that are co-branded as strength and conditioning gyms. That is not a coincidence. It is the smart affiliate owner who is tethered to CFHQ not with a chain but with a thread because they may feel that “Open Diabetes” and “Fuck Nick Jonas” are bad for business.



Is an apology called for? Perhaps. CrossFit HQ seems to think the only way they can get their message across is to offend. I disagree. On the heels of a clearly offensive tweet (no one has even said anything about the offensiveness of the “dead homies” part) the message could have continued unabated and equally well served had HQ offered an apology to those type 1s who were inadvertently caught up in the rip tide.


CrossFit’s fight is for the affiliates. That’s the whole point of the ACSM battle and, by extension, its beef with Coke. What’s odd is that the affiliates are getting caught in the crossfire of a battle being waged on their behalf.  


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Photo 3 courtesy of CrossFit Empirical.