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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Leo Hickman: Driven by mischief: Judging by their ads, some companies now revel in taunting environmentalists

by Leo Hickman, The Guardian, Thursday, January 24, 2008

Any advertiser flicking through the Advertising Standards Authority's code of practice quickly arrives at Section 2.2. "All marketing communications," it decrees, "should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society."

What a shame this sense of responsibility isn't extended to the environment, too. Given that we are bombarded with, on average, 3,000 adverts every day -- there are about 50 in this paper today -- it doesn't take long before you come across one that promotes a product that, in its own small way, is harming the environment.

But beyond the mundane adverts for cheap flights, plasma TVs and patio heaters, there is a new generation of advert that almost appears to be goading society's newfound environmental sensibilities. The website, which "explores the psychology of climate change denial with observations and anecdotes about our weird and disturbed response to the problem", has been inviting visitors to send in their best examples from around the world and, surprise, surprise, the motoring industry has been generous enough to dream up the majority of candidates for "Best in Show".

First to India, where an advert for the Ford Endeavour finds this 4x4 behemoth leaving slushy tracks on a melting polar landscape. Behind the two-tonne, seven-seater vehicle, which does just 7.5 km per litre in city driving conditions (compared to 22kmpl for India's new "People's Car", the Tata Nano), stand two rather forlorn-looking polar bears, an animal that has become the symbol of climate change. Could Ford India have chosen a more inappropriate setting to sell its wares? A children's playground, perhaps?

Ford in the UK goes for a much simpler approach with its Fiesta Zetec Climate (why would you ever use the word "climate" to name a car?) ads by accompanying a picture of the car with just a short sentence: "Most people would prefer a hot climate." It wouldn't appear as if Ford's survey of people's climatic preferences extended to those living in already parched regions of the planet now fearing the kinds of sharp temperature rises predicted by climatologists.

Using a short, punchy sentence is a popular tactic, it seems. Jeep has settled on using "The End of the World is Never Nigh" as an ideal sentiment to attract customers. Buy a Jeep and you will never have to worry about anything that those doom-mongers keep banging on about - instead you will be cruising along well above those lapping waves.

The messaging still not blunt enough for you? Try Hyundai's "Greed is Good" adverts then. Reprising the mantra of Gordon Gekko, Michael Douglas's odious city-trader character from the film Wall Street, is exactly what the environment needs right now, isn't it? Oh, how we need a return to the devil-may-care, me-want-now consumerism of the 1980s.

Playing car-chase computer games at home is certainly less polluting than speeding along in cars outside on the roads, but the games manufacturer Electronic Arts appears to have misread the current popular use of the term "carbon" when naming a game "Need for Speed: Carbon". It seems to think that it is a reference to the thrill-seeking sentiments that spur us to get behind the wheel instead of referring to the emissions that pour from the exhaust.

French advertisers are altogether more subtle, choosing instead to use anthropological and ethnographical references. Citroën, for example, deems it suitable a ride. "When Héyoka came back to his tribe," gushes the blurb beneath the picture, "he brought together his people in order to tell them about his vision: it was the new C3 X-TR. In his vision, Héyoka felt first much robustness and security - then much comfort and adaptability - and also a true pleasure in driving ... Even the oldest people in the tribe had never had such a vision." No reference by Héyoka, then, to the Amazon's desperate environmental plight?

The French energy giant EDF appears not to have done its homework before deciding to use the statues of Easter Island to reinforce its message that, "We develop tomorrow's energies for future generations." EDF is one of the world's largest suppliers of nuclear energy, an irony that is quick to point out: "The Easter Island civilization collapsed from deforestation and overpopulation. The statues are a symbol of hubris and denial in the face of an impending environmental disaster. What staggering stupidity to use them to promote nuclear power".

See more Climate change denial adverts here

· Send in your own examples by visiting

· Post questions and answers to Ask Leo The Guardian, 119 Farringdon Road, London EC1 3ER Fax: 020-7713 4366. Email: Please include your address and telephone number.

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