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Man Friday: Macho 4×4 ads are an act of eco-hooliganism


Tony Weaver is a freelance photo-journalist, environment writer, columnist and editor.

Advertisements for 4x4 vehicles that depict cowboy hooliganism are not only hopelessly old-fashioned and out of touch with modern conservation realities, they also encourage destructive off-road driving.

First published in Die Burger.

There was some (and I stress, some) outrage on outdoor and motoring forums these past two weeks after the Advertising Regulatory Board ordered Toyota to scrap an advertisement for its Hilux GR Sport bakkie. I never saw the ad, but I gather from reports that it showed a Hilux driving at speed through sand dunes, spraying sand, while three meerkats watched.

Now clearly, this ad was shot in a controlled environment, and the meerkats were edited in, because meerkats don’t live on beaches (well, they have been known to venture close to beaches on the Skeleton Coast, but that’s irrelevant). Much of the outrage on social media was directed at the two people who complained about the advertisement on the grounds that it a) encouraged illegal behaviour, ie driving on beaches; and b) depicted environmentally destructive driving.

In its response, Toyota disingenuously stated that the advertisement was filmed in the Philippi sand-mining area on the Cape Flats, and that no beaches were harmed in the making of the ad.

In its ruling, the board said the ad “depicts illegal behaviour in a manner that makes it appear glamorous, exciting and as if it is condoned”.

Reactions on social media included calling those, like me, who supported the ban “snowflakes”, “nannies” and “idiot eco-warriors”.

I was attacked by some members of a popular four-wheel drive forum when I posted, in response to commenters who said that because of the “presence” of meerkats it was obviously not shot on a beach, that: “It’s exactly this kind of ad that encourages the kind of off-road hooliganism that this forum has gone to such lengths to get rid of. Objecting to the ban is like objecting to the banning of an ad that shows a man beating up a female robot that looks just like a woman – ‘it’s not violence against women, it’s violence against a robot’.”

The sad reality is that this kind of ad is not only hopelessly old-fashioned and out of touch with modern conservation realities, it also does encourage destructive offroad driving. The effect of this kind of hooligan behaviour is horribly evident in remote places like Namibia’s Damaraland and Kaokoveld, where authorities are seriously considering restricting access by self-drive campers because of the environmental destruction caused by off-road drivers.

When I first travelled to the Kaokoveld in 1984, there were virtually no tracks to be seen. One of the first lessons I was taught by veteran conservationist, Garth Owen-Smith, was to never drive off existing tracks. He would point out old tracks and say “that track was made during World War II, in late 1942, when a rescue party tried to reach the shipwrecked Dunedin Star”, or: “That’s a brand new track – there must be poachers in the area.”

Now the Kaokoveld is littered with tracks across the ancient gravel plains and lichen fields, tracks that will still be there in 100, 200 years’ time. The environmental destruction is permanent and can never be repaired.

Sadly, it seems, some car manufacturers and their advertising agencies have evidently not yet worked out that they need to be part of the environmental solution, and not part of the problem. DM


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