In a landmark decision, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned two advertisements for the Toyota Hilux SUV, marking a significant moment in the ongoing debate about the environmental impact of vehicle advertising. This decision is the first of its type to forbid an SUV commercial on the grounds that it violates environmental criteria of socially responsible driving.
The advertisements in question were part of Toyota’s 2020 campaign. One was a poster, and the other a social media video. The video depicted several Toyota Hilux SUVs navigating challenging off-road terrain, including a river crossing, with a voiceover describing the scene as “one of nature’s true spectacles.” The narrative then shifted as the vehicles moved to a road, drove through an urban area, and concluded with a solitary SUV entering a driveway, under the tagline, “Toyota Hilux. Born to roam.” The poster similarly showed two SUVs in the foreground, followed by a convoy on rocky terrain, creating a cloud of dust. It has been accused of encouraging rash driving that harms the environment.
Reason behind the Ban
UK advocacy group Badvertising, together with Adfree Cities filed the complaint that resulted in the ban. They demanded that the promotion of ecologically damaging conduct cease and that advertisements for high-carbon goods and services be removed. The Advertising Standards Association declared that the ads lacked a sense of social responsibility and encouraged the use of cars in a way that ignored their effects on the environment and wildlife.
Veronica Wignall, a co-director of Adfree Cities, criticized the advertisements for epitomizing Toyota’s disregard for nature and the climate. She pointed out the contrast between how SUVs are portrayed in advertisements, often in rugged environments, and their actual usage, with research showing that three-quarters of new SUVs in the UK are registered in urban areas. Wignall emphasized the need to address the broader issue of high-carbon advertising’s impact on society.
Toyota’s Defense and ASA’s Stance
Toyota defended its Hilux campaign, stating that the vehicle serves a legitimate purpose for individuals in demanding industries like farming and forestry. However, the commercial did not feature any such workers. In 2021, the ASA had announced plans to investigate environmental advertising claims and practices, highlighting the growing scrutiny of advertising’s role in promoting environmentally irresponsible behavior.
In the UK, SUV sales have increased dramatically, making up about one-third of all vehicle purchases. In the current year, SUVs accounted for a record 51% of new car registrations in Europe. The average conventional automobile bought in 2023 has higher carbon emissions than the average car purchased in 2013, largely due to rising sales of SUVs, which are frequently heavier than traditional versions.
As consumers become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their choices, companies face mounting pressure to ensure that their advertising is truthful and accurate.
In 2009, Volkswagen was fined $100 million by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for using a deceptive software program to cheat emissions tests, leading to false claims about the fuel efficiency of its diesel vehicles.
Similarly, in 2016, H&M was found by the Norwegian Consumer Council to have exaggerated the sustainability of its clothing line, resulting in a complaint to the ASA.
This ruling by the ASA is a clear indication of the increasing attention being paid to the environmental impact of advertising. It reflects a growing awareness of the role of advertising in shaping consumer behavior and its potential contribution to environmental issues. The decision could set a precedent for how vehicles, particularly those with higher carbon footprints, are advertised in the future. There is a growing consensus that businesses have a responsibility to operate in a sustainable manner and that advertising should not promote products or services that contribute to environmental degradation.
The ban on Toyota Hilux ads in the UK is a significant step in the ongoing effort to align advertising practices with environmental responsibility. It highlights the need for a more nuanced approach to vehicle advertising, one that considers the environmental implications of promoting certain types of vehicles. As the world grapples with climate change and its effects, decisions like this from regulatory bodies like the ASA become increasingly important in steering both corporate behavior and public perception towards a more sustainable future.