“Explore your inner beast.” This was the tagline used last year to market the Ford Ranger. With 2.4 tonnes, it is quite a bit of a “light” truck, but the stakes are getting higher. This year, the 3.5 tonnes Ram 1500 “eats utes for breakfast.”
The giant light truck has arrived in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Eight out of 10 most popular passenger vehicles are currently SUVs or utes, with two-thirds of them being registered to be used for personal purposes.
Based on the Household Travel Survey, Many of the trips made with smaller vehicles (such as shopping excursions) are now carried out with these cars.
Moreover, despite the recently-held protests from tradies and farmers over “ute taxes “use tax,” the double-cab light truck has evolved into a highly urban vehicle.
As we looked over the commercials for the vehicles we saw from New Zealand, utes or pickups were one of the best “masculine” marketing strategies. The themes of violence and dominance are prominent: cars come with names like “Raptor” and “Gladiator” and are often referred to in terms of “muscular” and “beasts.”
Many advertisements feature images of driving violently, skiing, and jumping while the vehicle is generally taken from below and moving swiftly toward the camera. SUV marketing is more gender-neutral and emphasizes safety, luxury, and lust.
Trucks versus cars
The problem is that climate change is also super-sizing, like the extreme heat waves in the Pacific Northwest of the US and Canada, and the severe flooding in Europe and worldwide have served to remind us.
Light trucks in urban streets harm the environment on two levels. Because of their size and weight, they emit more CO2 than other vehicles. In a typical year, the 100 Ford Rangers would emit 90 tonnes more CO2 than the equivalent of Toyota Corollas.
Large vehicles also hinder the need to shift to low-carbon modes of transport by blocking pedestrian paths because they have grown beyond parking spaces for cars, making walking and cycling more dangerous and difficult.
The pedestrians and cyclists who are struck by these vehicles are approximately three times as likely to be killed or seriously injured compared to a collision involving a smaller car.
Nature as a marketing tool
It is ironic (but intentionally) nature, and the capacity to be in touch with nature are ongoing marketing themes to sell large four-wheel drive automobiles to urban residents.
As the cultural historian William Rollins has stated, the SUV market has manipulated and misinterpreted a “developing environmental consciousness” into the demand for vehicles with high emissions. As a result, the time needed to design more environmentally friendly vehicles was lost.
In New Zealand, the shift to larger SUVs and utes has essentially wiped out the fuel efficiency gains over the past ten years. Globally, the SUV market was the only industry sector last year where CO? emissions continued to rise despite the pandemic.
The growth in SUV sales has been identified as the second-most-important reason CO2 rises.
This is not a brand-new story.
It is not a novel story. Detroit auto reporter Keith Bradsher’s book from 2002, High and Mighty SUVs: The most dangerous cars in the World and the way they came to be that way, exposes the well-known risks: high levels of emission levels, dangerous pedestrians and other drivers and susceptible to deadly “rollovers.”
He also gives incredible detail about the marketing strategy developed around these vehicles; some exceed the size of the WWII tanks.
Marketed at our “reptilian” instincts for safety, dominance, and connection to the natural World, it had a solid Hobbesian flavor. Life – particularly city life – is nasty, brutish, and short. One must dominate or be dominated, even on that trek to the supermarket for cat food.
Bradsher’s conversations with marketing executives revealed a strategic plan to promote the vehicles to those with higher self-esteem, insecurity, and status anxiety. New Zealand research with SUV drivers also revealed that the drivers were much more inclined to agree with the claim” that “most people would like a vehicle like mine.”
Auto industry goldmine
New Zealand has been an ideal marketplace for light-duty urban vehicles. With low emission standards and safety ratings that prioritize motorists above other motorists and the regulatory frameworks create a favorable environment for super-sizing vehicles.
This is also an old story. The American pickup was introduced because of an economic war with Europe which stifled foreign competitors from this US market. The all-American pickup truck came to benefit from various exemptions from safety and environmental rules.
Since then, they have been a gold mine, with profits on SUVs and utes much higher than on cars and the auto marketing machine swinging in heavily behind these vehicles.
About 85 percent of Ford’s advertising budget now focuses on vehicles like SUVs or utes. The 35 billion dollars in the global market for auto marketing is now focused on selling these vehicles, including emerging markets such as India and Brazil.
Change is on the way.
Large-scale marketing campaigns for these vehicles with high emissions are a source of controversy regarding the role played by the advertising industry in tackling climate change.
UK organization Badvertising, a UK-based organization The Badvertising UK organization, which has pushed for a ban on advertising in the most polluted three percent of vehicles, claims that the advertising industry ought to be “named and shamed” like other industries that indirectly are a contributor to the climate crisis (such as investment and banking).
However, the advertising industry could be a key component in the solution. Creatives working with governments to achieve ambitious targets for decarbonization are voicing their opinions on what they call the “tide of misinformation” they have to contend with due to commercial advertising.
While marketing spends may still be weighted heavily in favor of the auto industry, there are ways of promoting smaller, cleaner, safer vehicles:
- mandate global health warnings in all ads for high-emissions products
- stop the advertising of the dirtiest third the vehicles
- move the New Zealand import prohibition for the vehicle from 2035 until 2025.
- establish low-emission zones in cities
- Stop the sale of diesel cars that do not comply with the most recent European emission standards.
Finally, a major one takes action: adopt new codes of advertising ethics to end the advertising of products and lifestyles that emit high carbon emissions.