Background

Summary of Council decision:

Two issues were investigation, both of which were Not upheld.

Ad description

A press ad for Jaguar Land Rover, seen in the 12 June 2021 edition of The Guardian, featured an image of a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) in a forest setting with the headline “LIFE IS SO MUCH BETTER WITHOUT RESTRICTIONS”. Smaller text below the image stated "BOOK YOUR EXTENDED TEST DRIVE … Understandably, there are still restrictions as life slowly gets back to normal. Not so with the Defender, the 4WD vehicle with a capacity to go almost anywhere and do almost anything. If you take one for an extended test drive … a whole new world of freedom awaits".

Issue

The ASA received 96 complaints, including from Adfree Cities, Badvertising and New Weather Institute who challenged whether:

1. the claim “LIFE IS SO MUCH BETTER WITHOUT RESTRICTIONS” was misleading, because they believed it implied the vehicle depicted was above restrictions or rules, including those aimed at preventing climate change or other wide scale ecological damage.

2. the ad was socially irresponsible because it implied that the vehicle depicted could be driven in forests or similar ecologically-sensitive environments which could encourage or condone behaviour that was detrimental to the environment.

Response

1. Jaguar Land Rover Ltd believed the average consumer would not infer from the claim “LIFE IS SO MUCH BETTER WITHOUT RESTRICTIONS” that the vehicle shown was above rules aimed at preventing climate change or ecological damage. The ad was up-beat in tone, and the claim “LIFE IS SO MUCH BETTER WITHOUT RESTRICTIONS” referred to both the challenges faced by consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic and the easing of lockdown restrictions.

2. Jaguar Land Rover said they did not use ecologically sensitive or protected areas when producing ads, and they believed that the ad did not contain any active or passive implication that consumers should do so. It was beyond their scope to anticipate every unlawful activity of any customer and address all such circumstances in an ad.

Jaguar Land Rover said the ad depicted a vehicle on an established track in a forest, with no fresh or novel disturbance involved, and focused on the increased freedom that had become available following the easing of COVID-related restrictions. In their view, the vehicle, which was capable of carbon emission of 75 grams per kilometre, was not heavily polluting, and was below the certified legal threshold for noise levels. The ad therefore did not irresponsibly condone or encourage the use of vehicles in ecologically sensitive areas, or promote disturbance to protected species.

The Guardian understood that the ad had appeared in a number of other national newspapers around the same time and said they did not consider the ad to be socially irresponsible on the basis that it would encourage driving in a location or in a manner which was detrimental to the environment. They said the ad depicted a four-wheel drive vehicle driving along a clearly defined track, rather than being driven through built-up forest, which they understood was a lawful use of the vehicle. The vehicle had not driven over greenery or wildlife, which might be destroyed, and had not been shown driving erratically or in a manner which might otherwise be detrimental to the forest or wildlife within it.

The Guardian believed readers would not reasonably infer that the ad suggested the vehicle itself was genuinely above restrictions or rules. They considered that the sentence “LIFE IS SO MUCH BETTER WITHOUT RESTRICTIONS” was tongue in cheek, rather than suggesting that the vehicle was not subject to laws or rules. Additionally, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they believed readers were likely to have understood the ad’s use of the word “restrictions” as referring to the recent easing of lockdown restrictions.

Assessment

1. Not upheld

The ASA considered that consumers were unlikely to interpret the claim in a literal way to mean that the vehicle had been exempted from any current laws, rules or regulations that were designed to combat global climate change or wide-scale ecological damage caused by the motoring industry.

Instead, we considered that the claim “LIFE IS SO MUCH BETTER WITHOUT RESTRICTIONS”, was ambiguous and could be read either simply as a claim celebrating the ability to use the vehicle to visit different locations without restriction or, when read with the text further down the ad that stated "Understandably, there are still restrictions as life slowly gets back to normal”, as a reference to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the easing of lockdown restrictions. In that respect we noted that at the time the ad was published, in June 2021, a number of lockdown restrictions related to the pandemic had been phased out. Further phasing-out of remaining restrictions was imminent, and we considered that the ad could have been understood by consumers in that context.

We considered that consumers would not infer that the ad was making claims about the vehicle benefitting from exemptions from laws or other rules designed to tackle global climate change and wide-scale ecological degradation. It was instead a general reference to the freedom to drive to different locations or specifically to drive in the context of COVID-19 restrictions easing. We concluded, therefore, that the claim “LIFE IS SO MUCH BETTER WITHOUT RESTRICTIONS” was not misleading.

On that point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules  3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.  and  3.2 3.2 Obvious exaggerations ("puffery") and claims that the average consumer who sees the marketing communication is unlikely to take literally are allowed provided they do not materially mislead.  (Misleading advertising), but did not find it in breach.

2. Not upheld

The ad depicted a Land Rover Defender on what appeared to be an untarmacked dirt track in an otherwise untouched, pristine forest. The bottom half of the vehicle was splattered with mud, especially around the wheel arches and across the lower portion of the front and rear doors. At the top of the ad was the prominent statement “LIFE IS SO MUCH BETTER WITHOUT RESTRICTIONS”. As referenced in point 1, we considered that statement was ambiguous and could be read either as referring to the specific easing of lockdown restrictions or the general benefits of driving a vehicle to freely visit different locations.

We acknowledged that four-wheel drive SUVs, such as the Land Rover Defender, were popular with all types of vehicle owners, including those who lived in urban as well as rural environments. We understood they were designed to be capable of tackling rugged terrain environments, such as off-road driving by specialist purchasers of vehicles, such as farmers, and for other specialised commercial land-use purposes.

We also acknowledged that national forests, parks and other rural locations were ecologically-sensitive areas. In particular, we understood that publicly owned forests in the UK were subject to the Forestry Commission Byelaws, which prohibited the driving and parking of motor vehicles on Forestry Commission land. In the UK’s National Parks we understood it was illegal to drive on some forms of trackways such as footpaths, bridleways, restricted bye-ways or entirely off-track. We considered advertisers should take care when depicting vehicles in those particular scenarios.

However, we also noted that untarmacked road surfaces could often be encountered in many rural areas, and that the use of vehicles like that shown in the ad could be vital in those communities for navigating country roads and tracks, and the track in the ad would be recognised as such. We also considered that mud splatters could be a common feature of vehicles driven in rural areas, and were not necessarily indicative of irresponsible use. We therefore considered that the vehicle depicted in the ad was not being used irresponsibly.

For those reasons, we considered the ad did not encourage or condone the use of the vehicle in ecologically-sensitive or in off-road environments, such as forests or national parks that were subject to legal restrictions on the use of motor vehicles, in ways that could be detrimental to the environment. We concluded therefore that the ad was not socially irresponsible.

On that point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule  1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.  (Social responsibility), but did not find it in breach.

Action

No further action necessary.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

1.3     3.1     3.2    


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