June 24, 2014: Dear Honda: Narcolepsy Isn’t Funny
By Melissa Patterson
Narcolepsy Network Outreach Coordinator
To those of us with narcolepsy, it pretty much goes without saying that any joke that relies on stereotypical portrayals of narcolepsy to try and get a laugh is not just a humor failure, but also potentially hurtful. Just as obviously, using a joke about any serious medical condition to sell a car is a really bad idea, as Honda hopefully learned this past weekend.
On Saturday night, Dr. Mark Patterson, and three other Narcolepsy Network board members learned about a major comedic failing in a newly released ad for the 2015 Honda Fit. A press release issued by Honda stated that the ad was supposed to be humorous and appeal to GenY buyers. The premise of the ad was that the Honda Fit is a great fit for everyone… unless you have narcolepsy, apparently.
About 10 seconds into the commercial, after establishing that the car could hold the contents of your dorm room and or your synthesizer, the ad randomly shows a young man who starts to explain that he has a medical condition called narcolep… and then he starts snoring halfway through the word. The narrator’s response? “You shouldn’t be driving.”
Unfortunately, many PWNs face comments like this in real life, so in addition to inaccurately portraying a serious medical condition, the ad also reinforced misconceptions about narcolepsy just for the sake of a cheap laugh.
Obviously (to every one but Honda), this was totally unacceptable.
Thanks to the quick actions of Mark Patterson, and the board members and staff of Narcolepsy Network, we were able to spread the news quickly to the narcolepsy community and most importunity, contact the appropriate people at Honda. The narcolepsy community response was huge. Honda’s Facebook and Twitter pages and the comments section of the commercial’s YouTube page quickly filled up with messages from outraged PWNs. Thank you to everyone who spoke up.
Immediately after receiving the tip-off about the ad, Dr. Patterson sprang into action on Facebook, Twitter and email, and called and left a message for Robyn Eagles, the Manager of Honda U.S. Public Relations. He expressed Narcolepsy Network’s displeasure with the company’s use of narcolepsy as a (failed) joke, and asked that the ad be modified or removed.
I opened the email from Mark early Sunday morning, and like everyone else, I got irritated and then I got busy. After contacting the rest of the NN staff just to make sure we were all over this (we were!), I joined other PWNs, supporters and advocates in spreading the word through social media and encouraging others to take action.
Since the video had not been removed on Sunday morning, Mark left another message for Robyn Eagles, and that afternoon our Executive Director, Eveline Honig and Communications Coordinator, Karen Rorie, worked on an official letter to Honda executives. Throughout the weekend, the entire narcolepsy community kept up the pressure on Honda through social media. Dr. Patterson also left Robyn a third message on Sunday night telling her that she was going to have a PR nightmare on her hands if the video remained unchanged.
Finally, early on Monday morning, someone from Honda must have checked the YouTube comments, Twitter feed, Facebook page, email messages and voice-mail, because the offending video was moved to “Private” on YouTube. Shortly thereafter, Robyn called Mark to apologize and let him know that internal matters had been dealt with, and the ad ‘would never see the light of day’. See Honda’s apology
In just 36 hours, working through both social media and official channels, we were able to convince Honda to modify their ad, do some education, and demonstrate that the narcolepsy community can pull together quickly when needed. Now that’s what I call success!
Update, June 25: Although Honda did instruct TV networks and dealerships to pull the ad, some on them did not receive the message before the ad was aired or posted. We continue to work with Honda representatives to make sure the ad is pulled from all media outlets.