Most children are taught not to mimic things they see on television or read about in magazines, but a court in Nanterre, France apparently doesn’t feel they have learned that lesson. A judge there is ordering Toyota to take down advertisements showing the Japanese company’s vehicles driving off-road. The ruling states that Toyota is encouraging irresponsible behavior.
The ruling concludes a lawsuit filed last April by France Nature Environment (FNE). The environmentalist group took issue with advertisements showing the Toyota Hilux pickup truck and Land Cruiser and RAV4 SUVs driving off-road. Photos and videos showed the Toyotas driving through streams and over small boulders, along with scenes shot on pavement.
FNE argued that showing vehicles venturing off paved roads could encourage people to harm the environment, or break laws that regulate off-road driving.
Toyota argued that the photos and videos used in its ads were taken abroad, and were not subject to French laws restricting where vehicles can go off-roading. Regardless, the judge sided with FNE.
“These advertisements promote environmentally unfriendly behavior that goes against the preservation of natural resources,” the judge said.
Toyota will not appeal the ruling. In a statement, the company said it was very surprised by the ruling, and said that it always checks with the relevant authorities before running and ad, and has even staged off road shots in studios before.
Toyota has one month to take down the offensive ads, which include billboard ads, print ads in newspapers and magazines, commercials, and photos on its website. If the carmaker fails to comply, the court will impose a fine of 100 euros for each day a non-compliant image is up.
To protect sensitive areas, and to allow people without SUVs to enjoy nature, French laws restrict off road driving to designated areas of wilderness and trails on private property. This is also the case in the United States.
Americans also have a magic phrase that gives advertisers more leeway in depicting activities that are not exactly safe or legal. Most people are familiar with the line “Professional driver on a closed course. Do not attempt.” That disclaimer makes it okay to show a Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe driving through a glass wall, or a Chevrolet Sonic skydiving.
Both actions seem much more irresponsible than driving through a stream, but that’s why American advertisements have so many disclaimers.
The fact that cars are often designed to do things that are not strictly legal is a troubling paradox for the people who have to sell them. A Land Cruiser may be able to climb a mountain, but not every mountain is accessible to off-road vehicles. In the same vein, one must drive well in excess of any speed limit to get the most out of a Corvette.
There are legal ways to do both things, and hopefully buyers are able to tell the difference, even without lawyers.