Adfree Cities Newsletter – November 2023

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It’s been a big month for stopping harmful advertising. We’re thrilled to announce that our complaint to the ad regulator over adverts for the Toyota Hilux SUV, made by ad agency The&Partnership, has been upheld and the adverts have been banned 

Read on for details on the complaint and the ruling and what this means going forwards. We’ve also got updates on the ZAP Games and some great news from London. As always, if you enjoy this newsletter, please consider sharing with a friend using the link above.


SUV advertising is ‘socially irresponsible’

Image shows a large pick up SUV from the rear as it kicks up a cloud of dust. Words read "Toyota SUV Ads Banned"

Our complaint related to adverts for the Toyota Hilux seen on YouTube and on paper bus stop posters in March this year. The ads showed large numbers of Hiluxes (an SUV pickup truck) driving through natural terrain, including rivers, as well as in a city.

We argued that the ads promoted driving that was likely to cause harm to the environment, contravening the Advertising Standards Authority’s codes on social responsibility in advertising. We are very happy to announce today that the ASA agreed with us, ruling that that the ads:

“presented and condoned the use of vehicles in a manner that disregarded their impact on nature and the environment. As a result, they had not been prepared with a sense of responsibility to society.

This is a major win and the first time social responsibility rules have been used to ban an SUV ad for depicting cars driving in natural terrain. A similar complaint in 2021 about a Land Rover ad that showed a vehicle in a forest under the caption “life’s better without restrictions” was not upheld, perhaps suggesting a shift in the ASA’s sensitivity to SUV advertising.


A slap in the face for Toyota

Image shows a large number of Hilux SUVs driving towards the camera. An image of Simba from the Lion King is superimposed in front of the vehicles as if he is running away from them. Above the vehicles are the words "Toyota. Beyond Caring"

The ruling is a slap in the face for Toyota, the world’s biggest carmaker by sales, as they frequently market themselves as a ‘green’, responsible choice for motorists. In truth, they are a leader in greenwash and climate delay.

Toyota is regularly listed amongst the worst car makers globally for action on climate change, including being ranked worst of all car makers for electric vehicle preparedness, and most recently coming third from bottom in Greenpeace’s annual auto rankings. Moreover, Toyota has consistently lobbied against climate action in countries around the world, including here in the UK where the company was a major opponent of the Zero Emission Vehicle mandate.

In the race to electrify transport, Toyota has fallen woefully behind its rivals. To date, Toyota offers just one battery electric vehicle, the bZ4X. In 2022, just 0.42% of Toyota’s total global sales were zero emission vehicles (BEVs or FCEVs), whilst hybrids (still powered by fossil fuels) made up 98.6% of electric sales.

Regulation isn’t enough

As always, whilst we’re pleased with this ruling, it just goes to show the limits of reactive regulation. If it weren’t for Adfree Cities’ complaint, this ad would have passed the ASA by. Even with our complaint, it has taken 8 months to reach a ruling.

What it all adds up to is the reality that regulation simply isn’t enough. We need legislation to ban ads for high carbon products, including SUVs, flights, fossil fuels and meat and dairy.

That’s where we need your help. Many of you have already written to your MP calling for a high carbon ad ban. If you haven’t yet, now’s the time. Use the link below to fill in our template letter and send to your MP.


The ZAP Games

A bus stop poster replaced with a love heart and the words "make love not war. ZAP"

The ZAP Games are well and truly underway. The international response to Black Friday consumerism has brought activists on to the streets in cities and towns across Europe to creatively disrupt outdoor advertising.

We’ve collected together some of the best images submitted so far to entertain and inspire you. Head to the Subvertiser’s International website to find out more about getting involved.


Badvertising book launch

The inspiring Andrew Simms and Leo Murray from the Badvertising campaign have written a new book raising the alarm on an industry that is making us both unhealthy and unhappy, and that is driving the planet to the precipice of environmental collapse in the process.

Adfree Cities is proud to be supporting the launch of the book with two events, one in London on November 24th and one in Bristol on November 29th.

You can pre-order the book from Pluto Press here and read more about it from Andrew here.


From the blog

Here are some highlights from this month on the Adfree Cities blog:

Help stop a digital screen in Chadderton November saw the launch of Adblock Manchester, following a visit to the city by the Hell Bus. And they’re wasting no time in starting their first campaign to block a new digital screen from being installed.

How meat ads stole our empathy Following the publication of Adfree Cities’ guide to meat industry advertising (The Cows Aren’t Laughing) this blog explores how we can respond to meat advertising and the stories it tells us.

The Oscars of oil As protesters gathered, and Greta Thunberg was arrested, outside the Oil and Money conference last month, we posted this blog about big oil advertising and the limits of regulation.


A big victory against corporate advertising

A large, spherical building illuminated to look like an eyeball.

Finally, we are thrilled to share the news that the proposed London MSG Sphere has been blocked by Sadiq Khan.

Campaign group Stop MSG Sphere fought tirelessly to gather local and national opposition to the Sphere, which would have seen a 90 meter orb covered in LED advertising panels built in the middle of Stratford, and their hard work has paid off. Huge congratulations to all who campaigned on this issue and thanks to all of you who submitted objections.

This win shows the power of local, community activism, but also serves as a warning of just how ill-suited the planning system is to protect us from harmful advertising. Big love to all the dedicated Adblockers out there fighting for ad-free spaces.


Thank you for supporting Adfree Cities

If you are interested in Adfree Cities and the work we do, there are plenty of ways to get involved. We’re always interest to hear your thoughts, so get in touch!

If you know someone who might like Adfree Cities, please forward them this email and encourage them to join our mailing list.

If you’d like to donate to our campaign as we tackle greenwash, stand up for our public spaces and take on the juggernaut of commercial advertising, you can do so here: adfreecities.org.uk/donate

In solidarity,

The Adfree Cities team

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