Ben Bold
Nov 22, 2023

ASA bans Toyota ad for encouraging environmentally damaging driving

Ad was created by The & Partnership, whose London offices were targeted by environmental demonstrators yesterday.

Toyota: ad depicted SUVs as if roaming herds of cattle.
Toyota: ad depicted SUVs as if roaming herds of cattle.

The Advertising Standards Authority has banned a pair of Toyota ads that featured SUVs "roaming" in the wild, because they encouraged drivers to take vehicles off-road, while ignoring the environmental impact.

A Facebook post stated: "From active traction control to hill start assist, Toyota Hilux, born to roam." An accompanying video depicted what at first looked like groups of wildlife, kicking up dust clouds as they moved across plains fringed by mountains—in a style reminiscent of a nature documentary. However, it transpired it was a fleet of Toyota Hilux SUVs moving in concert before joining a road.

A voiceover said: "One of nature's true spectacles," before the vehicles were shown driving through an urban area, followed by a single Toyota reversing up a driveway. "Toyota Hilux," the voiceover said. "Born to roam." A final shot showed the car parked in rocky, natural surroundings.

The second ad was displayed on a bus shelter (pictured above), using the "Born to roam" line and depicting a Hilux on a rocky slope in a savannah-type landscape. In the background were about 50 identical SUVs as if a large herd of animals.

The complainant was campaigning organisation Adfree Cities, which argued that the ads condoned behaviour that was harmful to the environment and was therefore irresponsible.

In its defence Toyota highlighted measures to make "positive environmental change", the ASA said, including introducing hybrid and electric vehicles since 1997, while making its hybrid tech royalty-free to third parties.

The automotive company said the ads had been checked rigorously for "both technical capability claims and wider generic claims for the vehicle and/or the brand."

It said off-road footage of the vehicles in the video ad was minimal and "when they appeared they were never in an environment which was ecologically sensitive or a habitat with wildlife."

It added that the terrains used in the ads were such as those for which the Hilux was designed.

"The Hilux was meant for the toughest environments and certain industries had a genuine need for off-road which included specialised workers such as farmers, forestry workers and park rangers," the ASA relayed.

Ultimately, Toyota argued that "no reasonable viewer would have understood the ad as encouraging UK consumers to drive irresponsibly in the UK countryside and cause environmental harm."

However, the ASA countered that even though the "sheer volume of cars in the ads would lead viewers to interpret the scenes as fantastical and not as a portrayal of real-world driving", the vehicles "travelled across un-tarmacked plains and through rivers, with dust and scree visibly disturbed."

The watchdog said: "While we acknowledged Toyota's point that they were in part targeting specialised vehicle users, such as farmers or forest workers, who might legitimately need to use vehicles in rural or off-road environments, those scenarios were not represented in the ad, which included driving by unidentifiable categories of vehicle users in both rural and urban environments."

It said the ads both presented and condoned the use of vehicles in a "manner that disregarded their impact on nature and the environment."

"The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Toyota (GB) plc to ensure their future marketing communications contained nothing that was likely to encourage irresponsible behaviour towards the environment."

Meanwhile, following the ban, Adfree Cities is taking to the streets to protest against creative agency The & Partnership's work with Toyota, an automotive company it says is "one of the worst car manufacturers for its slow adoption of electric vehicles and its anti-climate lobbying."

Adfree Cities and Badvertising, as well as other climate, anti-pollution and safety groups planned to stage a demonstration on 22 November (yesterday) outside the offices of The & Partnership, on London's Gresse Street.

Veronica Wignall, co-director of Adfree Cities, said: "These adverts epitomise Toyota's total disregard for nature and the climate, by featuring enormous, highly-polluting vehicles driving at speed through rivers and wild grasslands."

"More and more SUVs are being sold on a false promise of rugged adventure, exploiting imagery of the natural world. In reality, SUVs are harming nature, polluting our air, clogging up our cities and causing tragic loss of life. This ruling is welcome but regulation of SUV adverts is not enough; the promotion of SUVs should be terminated altogether."

Campaign UK

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