Carjacking the Lorax…Posted by ed in blog February 28, 2012
In 15 years of working in sustainability I have seen some pretty amazing examples of feckless corporate greenwash – from Tesco’s “Flights for Lights” to the “clean coal” lobby’s spectacular oxymoronic efforts.
But despite becoming hardened to such dubious communication, the odd campaign can still floor me with its crass chicanery. Mazda’s flirtation with Universal Pictures’ forthcoming adaptation of Dr Seuss‘s classic The Lorax is a doozy. Watch the Lorax Mazda Advert.
Back in 2008, in response to the growing scourge of dubious eco-claims, sustainability communications agency Futerra wrote the Greenwash Guide, which included the 10 signs of greenwash. It seems Mazda’s corporate communications team have almost used them as a checklist when devising their advert. In the ad a “Seussified” Mazda CX-5, that’s a “compact SUV” to you and me (10 Signs of Greenwash #5: best in class?), cruises caringly through a pre-deforested landscape of truffula trees (10 Signs of Greenwash #3: suggestive pictures). The orange, yellow and pink foliage is only mildly fluffier than the content of the voiceover. “Who delivers outstanding fuel efficiency without compromising the joy of driving?” intones the narrator rhetorically, Mazda of course, with its Skyactiv technology.
So I did some digging. The Mazda website’s environmental pages are an artful example of obfuscatory nonsense. It’s all about “sustainable zoom-zoom” apparently, and “eco-friendly features that protect the beauty of our natural world” (10 Signs of Greenwash #1: fluffy language, #7: gobbledygook and #9: no proof).
While there is marginal benefit to fuel efficiency from Skyactiv technology, even the best model, the Mazda CX-5, with CO2 emissions of 119g/km, is not much better than average for a new UK vehicle (average = 144.2g/km in 2010). It is way off the cutting edge for all vehicles (eg Kis Rio is only 85g of CO2/km), while the least efficient CX-5 model is at 144g of CO2/km bang on average.
So not entirely revolutionary then, and as for being the only car that is in receipt of the “truffula tree seal of approval – ‘We care an awful lot!’”, don’t get me started (10 Signs of Greenwash #8: imaginary friends).
Digging deeper still into the website, I discovered the big reveal in Mazda’s vision of anticipated adoption of environmental technologies by 2020. Mazda does not intend to “rely heavily on vehicles that are strictly dedicated to meeting environmental needs“. So despite all the bluster, it is business as usual.
Aside from all the discussion on whether Mazda’s claims are credible, maybe we need a Greenpeace Dark Side-type expose here too (Signs of Greenwash #2: sreen products, dirty company), the real crime is perhaps the exploitation of the poor old Lorax.
Using cartoon characters in marketing tie-ins is nothing new – The Incredibles and McDonalds or Toy Story and Burger King, for example – but there’s something about the connection between Mazda and the Lorax which leaves a particularly unpleasant taste in the mouth.
Renowned in Dr Seuss’s fable as “speaking for the trees”, the Lorax fights the environmental destruction wrought by the faceless Once-ler. To take the wise Lorax and use his integrity to help flog what is a really rather ordinary and unimpressive vehicle is downright character assassination. The Lorax has been well and truly carjacked.
Mazda did not respond to a request for comment.
This article originally appeared on the Guardian Environment Blog here.