An ad seen on YouTube, promoting the Toyota GT86, appeared during a third-party video. The ad was set in an animated virtual world in which a male character described not being real and how he had no feeling, until he drove the GT86. The car was shown being driven at speed, being followed by a police helicopter and being chased through narrow virtual streets. The car was then shown escaping the city and following signs to "the end of the world". The car burst through a glass barrier onto a real road.
Two complainants challenged whether the ad was irresponsible and condoned dangerous driving.
Toyota said they did not condone or encourage unsafe or irresponsible driving and that when designing the ad they had paid particular attention to the Highway Code and the CAP Code. They said the aim of the ad was to highlight the GT86's point of difference to other cars: that it was a car built for control, handling and driving enjoyment and was not built for speed. They stated that the car had been conceived and designed as a fun car for everyday driving and was the "antithesis of expensive sports cars with powerful engines". They asserted that the ad showed exhilaration in response to the handling of the car rather than in response to speed or racing.
They highlighted that the ad was clearly set in an animated, artificial and fantasy environment. In support of this they asserted that the cityscape was futuristic, cars were capable of driving themselves, real objects were considered as contraband, feeling real emotion was outlawed and that the improbable was routine, as demonstrated by bollards suddenly appearing through the road. They stated that therefore the ad did not show normal driving circumstances on public roads and that the driving scenes were impossible to emulate.
Despite the fact that the ad was set in an artificial world and therefore did not reflect reality, Toyota argued that the driver was never shown to be out of control of the car and his behaviour did not endanger himself or others. They said particular care had been taken over the pursuit scenes in the ad which they considered showed a game in a "cat and mouse" style rather than the car being pursued by the authorities. They denied that there was any reference to the police in the ad and argued that the pursuit scenes had been used to demonstrate the handling and connectedness that the driver felt when driving the car, not to show speed.
Toyota stated that no shots were used in the ad that did not advance the narrative of the story, and they had not sought to use the ad as an excuse for depicting action which would otherwise be unacceptable. They highlighted that they had conducted wide-ranging consumer research prior to the production of the ad which included focus groups of owners of sports cars and other vehicles to ensure they understood the key messages of the ad. They also stated that the two complaints were the only ones they had received about the ad which had been viewed by 1.3 million people on YouTube and a shorter version which had been broadcast on television. They therefore considered that the ad had not been of concern to the public at large.
Google (owners of YouTube) said the ad did not breach any of their internal policies and asserted that it was the responsibility of advertisers to ensure that their ads obeyed applicable laws and the CAP Code.
The ASA understood that Toyota had designed the ad to emphasise the unique driving experience of the car rather than the speeds it could achieve. We noted their belief that the central character was always shown to be in total control of the car and did not engage in any dangerous driving. Similarly, we understood that Toyota believed the ad showed the authorities attempting to prevent the character from having an authentic driving experience rather than preventing him from driving in a dangerous way. We considered, however, that a number of scenes depicted the character driving at speed and in a reckless manner, as shown by the reactions of bystanders as he drove past them, and the car chase scenes as the driver dodged, swerved and overtook various other drivers and obstacles.
We understood that because the ad was highly stylised and set in a fantasy environment, Toyota believed that the driving scenes featured were impossible to emulate. Whilst we appreciated that in the world where the ad was set, cars could drive themselves, objects could miraculously appear or disappear and certain everyday objects were contraband, we considered that the roads, public spaces and the car featured in the ad were recognisable as such and were not significantly different from those in the real world. We therefore considered that the driving featured, and in particular the speeds shown, could be emulated on real roads.
We also considered that the highly stylised nature of the ad glamorised the reckless manner in which the car was driven. Because we considered the ad portrayed speed, and the way the car could be handled in a manner that might encourage motorists to drive irresponsibly, we concluded that the ad was irresponsible and condoned dangerous driving.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
Marketing communications for motor vehicles, fuel or accessories must not depict or refer to practices that condone or encourage anti-social behaviour.
Marketing communications must not condone or encourage unsafe or irresponsible driving. If it could be emulated, marketing communications must not depict a driving practice that is likely to condone or encourage a breach of those rules of the Highway Code that are legal requirements if that driving practice seems to take place on a public road or in a public space. Vehicles' capabilities may be demonstrated on a track or circuit if it is obviously not in use as a public highway.
Marketing communications must not depict speed in a way that might encourage motorists to drive irresponsibly or to break the law.
To avoid the implication of irresponsible driving through excessive speed, care must be taken in the style of presentation of marketing communications. Particular care must be taken in, for example, cinema commercials and in marketing communications that appear in electronic media to avoid moving images that imply excessive speed. If they are shown in normal driving circumstances on public roads, vehicles must be seen not to exceed UK speed limits. (Motoring).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Toyota not to portray speed or driving behaviour in a way that might encourage motorists to drive irresponsibly in future.