Two men bludgeon a parked Land Rover with sledgehammers. They're swinging as hard as they can, yet they barely make a dent.
This is what Kirk Kirssin of
Tread Lightly! considers a responsible television ad. Land Rover
didn't have to show a truck blazing a new trail, thundering through
a stream or chasing away wildlife to prove how tough its vehicles
are. In fact, the Land Rover never even left the studio.
Kirssin knows a good advertisement when he sees
one. As coordinator for Tread Lightly!'s first annual "Challenges
in Advertising Award," he's studied dozens of magazine and TV
submissions within the past few months. The winners will be judged
and announced at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show in January, he
Tread Lightly!, which started as a
light-on-the-land push within the Forest Service and became an
industry-supported nonprofit in 1990, launched the award program to
try to rein in reckless advertising. Kirssin says bad ads go
against his group's principles by implying that ripping up the land
is OK. By giving kudos to the good ads, Kirssin hopes to set a new
advertising standard that might change behavior on the
It should also help improve the sport's
image, says Jack Raudy, a public relations expert who works with
ORVers in California. He says his clients call him whenever they
see a bad ad. "They say, "Jack, that's not us. That's an
advertising agency trying to make the sport look splashy and dashy
to sell vehicles." "
Next to the winners, Tread
Lightly! plans to display some examples of "bad ads' at the auto
show. There are plenty out there to chose from, says John Gatchell
of the Montana Wilderness Association. In his five years of
fighting ORVs, he's collected a whole file full of zingers which he
says reveal the true nature of the sport.
Gatchell says the manufacturers know what sells
vehicles, and that's horsepower. Most promotions he's seen stress
the idea that off-road vehicles are engineered to roam anywhere at
"Drink my dust, own the
water, get extra nuts on your Sundays," is the kind of ad copy that
sell ORVs because that's what people want, says Gatchell.
Advertisers stress conquering nature, not communing with it. He's
clipped one ad for a Polaris snowmobile that says, "Think of it as
a bullet on skis." To that, Gatchell responds: "I'm beginning to
think of it that way myself, as I see more and more public lands in
Bethanie Walder of the group
Road Rip has her own collection of egregious ads. One television
spot she viewed recently showed a sport-utility vehicle crashing
through a stream while a voice-over recited an excerpt from Norman
Maclean's novella, A River Runs Through It. "It's totally
outrageous," she says. "There's this really strong mixed message."
Walder and Gatchell are skeptical that cleaner
advertising will change behavior. "That's what these vehicles are
made for, to go into the backcountry," says Walder. "So what if
they only show the car parked in a studio or a garage? Everyone
knows these vehicles are meant to be driven outside."
Gatchell is even tougher: "All advertising is
bad. Every time they sell one of these vehicles, it's another nail
in nature's coffin."