Updated Monday, 4:30 p.m.:
A spokeswoman for Honda North America responded with the following comment, apologizing for the narcolepsy joke and saying the company will not air the ad with the reference:
“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 Seattleites’ 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.”
Narcolepsy advocates are angry over a new commercial from American Honda Motor Company Inc. (NYSE:HMC) that makes a joke out of the neurological disorder and suggests people who suffer from it don’t belong behind the wheel.
The commercial is part of Honda’s new “Fit for You” campaign, which is aimed at making the brand more appealing to millennials. 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.”
Narcolepsy is a chronic disorder that involves poor control of sleep-wake cycles. Its main features are fatigue and cataplexy (abrupt muscle weakness triggered by a strong emotion), but it's also associated with sudden sleep attacks.
The Honda commercial attracted a number of angry comments over the weekend after it was uploaded to YouTube. The video has since been set to “private” (meaning it is still online but not viewable by the public), but the criticism continued Monday on various social media networks, including the Honda Facebook page.
“I have narcolepsy and I drive,” one person wrote. “Making fun of an autoimmune condition that you obviously know absolutely nothing about is a very poor way to sell a vehicle.”
“Hey, Honda, who else isn’t fit for your Fit beside people with narcolepsy?” wrote another person.
Julie Flygare, a narcolepsy sufferer and author of the book “Wide Awake and Dreaming: A Memoir of Narcolepsy,” launched a petition on Change.org calling on Honda to remove the ad, saying narcolepsy sufferers are subject to bullying, ridicule and discrimination due to such “inaccurate, unoriginal” characterizations. “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.
Flygare points out in her petition that many people with the condition drive successfully and legally when properly treated.
A writer for the nonprofit group Wake Up Narcolepsy also criticized the ad, saying in a blog post that it “disrespects the 200,000 Americans struggling with this lifelong, incurable sleep disease.”
Honda’s 30-second commercial, titled “Synth and Seattleites,” was to begin airing on television this week, according to press materials. A representative for Honda North America didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the criticism.