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

Environmentally “irresponsible” Toyota SUV ads banned

Press enquiries: Veronica Wignall, 07517 408513, veronica@adfreecities.org.uk or James Ward, 07800 734603, james@adfreecities.org.uk

In a landmark move, the UK advertising watchdog has banned Toyota’s “Born to Roam” SUV adverts for encouraging driving that harms nature and the environment. The ad, promoted on outdoor ad sites and online, showed dozens of large, diesel Toyota SUVs driving off-road through natural environments, including rivers, before moving to drive as a pack through a cityscape.

“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.”

Veronica Wignall, Codirector at Adfree Cities

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned the ads eight months after they were reported by Adfree Cities for breaching advertising rules regarding Social Responsibility, in March 2023. The regulator said 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.

Given that the ads are being banned for their impact on nature, it’s embarrassing for creative agency The&Partnership, that the “Born to Roam” ad was filmed “in the style of a nature documentary”.

The ruling marks the first time the ASA has acted on this common and problematic theme in car advertising: rugged scenes of SUVs driving off-road through nature – despite the majority ending up in urban areas with major problems for congestion, pollution and public safety.

Advertising has a major role to play in the large increase in demand for SUVs, with a correspondingly massive rise in emissions, so Adfree Cities hopes this acknowledgement by the ASA of the harms of this type of advertising is a positive step to check the influence of adventure-themed SUV adverts on a mostly urban clientele. However, SUV advertising is out of control, with devastating real world consequences. Adfree Cites and our friends at Badvertising are calling for an end to SUV advertising.

Veronica Wignall, co-director at 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.”

Andrew Simms, co-founder of the Badvertising campaign who were co-signatory to the complaint, said: “Toyota’s attitude to social and environmental responsibility skidded off the road years ago after its early introduction of a hybrid vehicle. Since then not only has it lobbied to block the road to climate action and slow the greening of vehicles, it has been part of the profit-driven push to ‘autobesity’, using big ad campaigns to get drivers to switch to bigger, more polluting and dangerous SUVS.

“Abusing references to nature to sell vehicles that harm people and the natural world is a road crash of corporate irresponsibility. Adverts like this should never have been let out of the garage in the first place.”

Toyota said in their defence to the ASA that they had a right to advertise to certain markets that had a need for off-road, such as farmers and forestry workers. However, the ASA rejected this, pointing out that these types of use were not represented in the advert.

In January 2023 the share of SUVs in new car sales in Europe hit a record high, 51%, and the vast majority of those, around 90%, were powered by fossil fuels.

Global emissions associated with SUV sales rose to almost 1 billion tonnes of CO2e in 2022, equivalent to the combined national emissions of Germany and the UK. The average emissions of the Toyota Hilux X diesel model featured in the advert are very large, at 248-259gCO2/km, up to 2.7 times higher than EU targets for CO2 emissions for cars from 2021 (95gCO2/km).

Bus stop ad for the Toyota Hilux

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