Ads for two different Toyota models have recently come under scrutiny in relation to claims made for their green credentials. In both cases, the verdict was the same and the lesson for car advertisers is clear. Veena Srinivasan warms globally to the theme.
Who: ASA & Toyota (GB) plc/Lexus (GB) Ltd
When: May and June 2007
Law stated as at: 28 June 2007
The ASA has ruled twice in consecutive months against environmental claims in advertisements for cars from the Toyota stable.
Lexus "Zero Guilt" misleading?
In May 2007, Toyota-owned Lexus had its knuckles rapped over print advertising in respect its Lexus RX 400h car. The copy's headline was:
"HIGH PERFORMANCE. LOW EMISSIONS. ZERO GUILT".
Ten complainants challenged the ad on the basis that the claims were misleading. Despite Lexus (GB) Ltd having sought the approval of the CAP Copy Advice team, prior to launching the campaign, the ASA held that the ad was likely to mislead.
The ASA accepted that the CO2 emissions rate for the RX 400h was low compared to other cars in its class, namely SUVs. However, it considered that the headline claims, above, implied that the RX 400h's emission rates were low, irrespective of the category of vehicle, and that the car caused little or no damage to the environment. In reality, the ASA held that neither of these implied claims was true.
So the finding was "Complaint upheld."
Prius benefits exaggerated?
In the second case, a TV ad for the "hybrid" Toyota Prius, created by Saatchi & Saatchi Japan, claimed that the Prius:
"emits up to one tonne less CO2 per year than an equivalent family vehicle with a diesel engine".
One complainant challenged whether the claim, above, misleadingly exaggerated the environmental benefits of the car.
The maths bit
Toyota gave the ASA a chart, which showed the average level of emissions produced by new cars registered in 2005 and compared this average against Prius' emissions. The results showed that, on average, Prius omitted 68g/km less CO2 than the other 2005 cars. Toyota multiplied this figure by 20,000 km, which it explained to be the reasonable average distance travelled by a car, annually. This brought the emissions savings to 1.36 tonnes.
In addition, the chart revealed the emissions levels for individual cars with engines between 1.2 and 2.2 litres. Toyota compared the 1.5 litre Prius against cars with 1.8 litre engines, as, in their opinion, Prius' output was comparable to a 2.0 litre engine. Toyota explained that the chart included evidence that the Prius emitted one tonne less CO2 than a range of cars either side of the 1.8 litre threshold.
Toyota also argued that, in any event, the ad qualified the claim through the words "up to", which clarified the fact that the emissions savings could also be less than 1 tonne.
The independent expert consulted by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre had advised that the Prius emitted significantly less CO2 than other cars.
The ASA's ruling came down to this:
"We noted that Toyota had qualified the claim by stating "up to one ton less CO2 per year" and that the Prius emitted significantly less CO2 than some other cars with greater engine capacity, but we did not consider that their evidence demonstrated that it emitted 1 tonne less than equivalent vehicles with diesel engines or that it took into account the average annual distance driven by private cars in the UK"
It turns out that on Toyota's evidence, the annual distance driven by private cars in the US was 20,000 km, while in the UK, the relevant figure was only 13,440 km, thus skewing the figures. The ASA also found that Toyota's document, which measured the Prius' output, only compared the hybrid car against the previous model and another Toyota model.
Why this matters:
Who hasn't heard the term "carbon footprint"? With the increasing awareness of climate change and the related potentially devastating ramifications, it is not surprising that we are increasingly seeing advertisers putting their corporate social responsibility hats on by flashing their "green" side.
Advertisers have not been slow in demonstrating their understanding of the latest trend; green is the new black, it would seem. Consumers' purchasing decisions are increasingly influenced by environmental claims, however, even the greenest of advertisers needs to bear in mind the advertising codes' requirements.
CAP has produced a reminder of rules that all advertisers need to bear in mind when making environmental claims.
– Advertisers must clearly explain the basis of any claim and qualify them, where appropriate.
– Claims such as "environmentally friendly" or "wholly biodegradable" should not be made without qualification, unless the advertiser can prove that a product will cause no environmental damage at any point during its full cycle.
– Suggestions that environmental claims command universal acceptance, when there is a significant division of scientific opinion, should be avoided.
– Advertisers should avoid the use of:
o extravagant language; and
o bogus and confusing scientific terms. If it is necessary to use a scientific term, the advertising must clearly explain its meaning.
Practically, the key words to bear in mind are: "misleading" – advertisers should ensure that their green claims are clear and accurate; and "substantiation" – advertisers should have evidence in place to prove their green claims. As CAP has explained:
"As with every sector, the burden of proof falls on the advertiser to prove the claims they make – not on the complainant or the ASA to disprove them."
Osborne Clarke, London