The UK advertising watchdog has banned two Toyota adverts for condoning driving that disregards its environmental impact in a landmark ruling, stating that the SUV ads had been created without “a sense of responsibility to society”.

The Guardian reported this was the first time the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had blocked an SUV advert on the grounds of breaching social responsibility in an environmental context.

The regulator barred two ads, first released in a 2020 campaign: a poster and a video shown on social media where dozens of Hilux trucks drive across off road terrain, including a river, while a voiceover describes the scene as “one of nature’s true spectacles”. The vehicles then join a road and drive through an urban area, before a lone car enters a driveway, with the voiceover continuing: “Toyota Hilux. Born to roam.” The poster shows two SUVs in the foreground, followed by a swarm of others traversing a rocky terrain over a cloud of dust.

The complaint was lodged by Adfree Cities, a network of groups trying to get advertising out of public spaces. They argued, in partnership with the UK campaign group Badvertising, that the adverts condoned environmentally harmful behaviour, and are calling for an end to advertising of high carbon products and services.

The ASA ruled that the adverts “condoned the use of vehicles in a manner that disregarded their impact on nature and the environment … they had not been prepared with a sense of responsibility to society”.

Research has shown three quarters of new SUVs in the UK are registered to people in urban areas, the Guardian noted.

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Toyota reportedly defended the Hilux campaign by arguing the vehicle was designed for the toughest environments, with those working in industries including farming and forestry having a genuine need for off road vehicles. It did not depict any such workers in the commercial, but it said it should not have to.

The paper noted ASA had previously issued a draft ruling banning adverts for a Land Rover Defender off roader in 2021 on social responsibility grounds, before overturning it.

A spokesperson told The Guardian: “Toyota does not condone behaviour that is harmful to the environment. In fact, over the course of the past three decades, not only has Toyota been one of the leaders in the automotive field in terms of carbon emissions reduction across its vehicle offering, it has shared hundreds of royalty-free licences, allowing others to use its electrification technology.

“As part of its wide range of global vehicle offerings, Toyota caters for customers who require a mobility option for reliable use in the harshest of terrains – those people who operate in off-road and remote settings.”

The spokesperson said footage in the advert had been shot on private land abroad, a non-UK location, with permission and “in a non-ecologically sensitive environment”, adding that the poster ad used computer-generated imagery and so had “no environmental impact”.