ASA bans Toyota ad in first environmental ruling of its kind

The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld a complaint against an ad in Toyota’s ‘Born To Roam’ campaign on social responsibility grounds.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has blocked ads from Toyota’s ‘Born To Roam’ campaign on the grounds that they encouraged drivers to take vehicles off-road.

The campaign fell foul of the advertising regulator’s rules surrounding social responsibility regarding the environment – and is the first time such a ruling has been upheld against an automotive brand.

In November 2021, a similar complaint was brought against Jaguar Land Rover, but was not upheld by the regulator.

It is a clear sign that the ASA is looking to be tougher on inappropriate environmental messages – even if the advert itself is not inherently misleading. The ASA launched its Climate Change and Environment Project in September 2021 where it acknowledged the role it had to play in ensuring the UK hits its climate ambitions by 2035.

The ads, which appeared on Facebook in video form and OOH at bus stops, featured Toyota’s Hilux SUVs driving over natural terrain as well as urban environments. Toyota argued that given the fantastical nature of some parts of the ad, e.g. when dozens of cars appeared on screen at once, this should not be taken as tacit encouragement to take its vehicles off-road.

Toyota also claimed the footage of the vehicles off-road was “minimal” and that the cars were never in an environment which was ecologically sensitive. It added that given the Hilux was marketed towards consumers and businesses with a genuine need to go off-road, the depiction of the vehicle in those conditions was justified, and they should be able to do so without “restrictions”.

The ASA, however, found that the fantastical elements did not persist throughout the entire ad. As a result, there were instances in which only a few vehicles appeared, which detracted from the fantastical elements and made it more likely the public would misconstrue the ad as encouraging unnecessary off-road use.

Trust in advertising industry ‘boosted by ASA campaign’

The body also rejected the argument that Toyota should be able to target members of the public whose line of work might require these vehicles without restrictions. It accepted that while Toyota has a right to target farmers or forest workers who may have a genuine use for the vehicle’s off-road capabilities, those situations “weren’t represented in the ad” and the actual users were “unidentifiable”.

It added: “We therefore considered that the impression given by the driving scenes and messaging in both ads was one of driving regardless of its purpose, across off-road environments and natural ecosystems which had no regard for the environmental impact of such driving.”

Concluding, the ASA ruled 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”.

The ad must not be shown again in the form against which the ruling was made.

A spokesperson for the ASA told Marketing Week: “We’ve been shining a greater regulatory spotlight on environmental issues, and motoring is one aspect of that. We’re continuing to review our rules and commissioning research into consumer understanding of green terms to ensure that green claims in ads are accurate and honest.”

Last year the ASA launched an advertising campaign designed to educate the public about its role in advertising regulation. It is part of ongoing efforts to restore the public’s trust in advertising more generally. Those who saw or heard the ad were 80% more likely to trust the ad industry, according to the ASA.