4X4 TV ads often show environmentally unsound behaviour and recovery techniques that are potentially deadly…

What’s the problem?

Most 4X4 ads show a 4X4 bouncing at speed over rough terrain, which is bad enough as the vehicle and environment wouldn’t last long if everybody drove that way. I’d like to see a warranty claim backed up with video evidence similar to what you see in the typical 4WD advert, and I know what I’d do if I was the warranty manager.   Be interesting one day for someone to test that in court…but I’m getting off the topic.  

Not the way to drive offroad. Throwing the car into a mudbog just says the thing needs crazy amounts of momentum to get anywhere.

the real problem is with 4×4 TV ads that depict off-road recoveries. that’s because recoveries are inherently dangerous situations, so showing anything other that the ideal technique leads to potential danger in real life.

Two examples come to mind, and I won’t name names as the problem is not confined to just one manufacturer.  The first TV ad depicting the wrong way to do something was a few years ago and showed a snatch recovery… with a chain. Hooked over a towball. The second, more recent, shows a recovery executed by having the ute in question drive backwards, way too fast, with a muddy strap not properly laid out – among other errors.

Why is that a concern?

Because people can and do get killed in 4WD recovery operations.   Now I’m not suggesting that a single advert can be held responsible for any particular incident. But I am definitely saying that every time a poor or incorrect practice is shown then it is subtly promoting unsafe methods, and losing an opportunity for positive reinforcement by not showing safe techniques.   Some people may say they take no notice, saw nothing, just a simple recovery.   But you do notice, subconsciously. It’s what marketing is all about, building brands, subtly and slowly.  Marketing people fuss about the use of logos, the right people being seen with the car, the exact way the Name is WriTTEn, all the details… so don’t tell me that even a short video clip doesn’t contribute that little bit towards reinforcing the wrong picture in people’s heads.   Ah, but surely it’s just advertising, car makers have creative license? What’s the difference between these 4WD ads and those showing a car being driven really fast on public roads? Or other fantasy ads?

The big difference is that everyone, without exception, knows it is unsafe to drift or race on public roads. You can argue such fast-car ads encourage drivers to drive dangerously, but it’d be hard to argue people don’t it is wrong.

In the case of  4×4 ads, how is Joe Average meant to know not to snatch with a chain, and not to use a towball as a recovery point?  How are they meant to know that snatch recoveries should not be done driving backwards, and not at high speed?  Do they know of the evils of salt water?  The students I teach don’t, and they’re not stupid, just inexperienced. Like the people that see these adverts.   Unless you know something of off-road recovery you just wouldn’t know. I won’t expand here on why it’s dangerous, other than to say it’s roughly equivalent to crossing a road without looking or using chainsaws without safety gear.

But it’s just a little advert…

Think about an engineering company with a target zero for workplace injuries, as all do these days.     Would they ever have videos that show people messing around with forklifts, chainsaws or plasma cutters and then dismiss it as “well it’s just an advert”? Can I be there when the advertising people suggest that to the safety manager, please!

Bottom line – Ads of these nature are encouraging and demonstrating behaviour that may get people injured or worse, and it’s time the manufacturers acknowledged the problem and ensured their creative agencies produce content that meets their advertising needs but is also safe.

This advert showed a snatch recovery using a chain hooked over a towball. There was also excessive speed, and look…even people standing far too close to the action. Holden quickly edited the ad and made another using 4WD expert Simon Christie who explained how to do things safely.

What are the current standards?

Here’s the part of the car advertising relevant to offroad vehicles:

4 Depiction of off-road vehicles

An advertisement may legitimately depict the capabilities and performance of an off-road vehicle travelling over loose or unsealed surfaces, or uneven terrain, not forming part of a road or road related area.

Such advertisements should not:

  • portray unsafe driving
  • portray vehicles travelling at a speed which would contravene the laws of the State or Territory in which the advertisement is published or broadcast, were such driving to occur on a road or road related area.

There are no recent cases which have been considered under this provision.

This is fine as far as it goes, but doesn’t explain what unsafe driving is, doesn’t mention the environment, and doesn’t cover recovery or other associated 4X4 vehicles.  So your well-meaning advertising person will find these regulations, note there’s nothing about recoveries or environmental damage, and off they go.  You could even say it’s a loophole.


What should be done?

Obviously, create 4X4 vehicle advertisements that don’t show incorrect techniques, and do promote positive techniques. This is difficult, because mostly such adverts are created by advertising companies… places that are not a known hotbed of 4X4 or car knowledge.   So this is how it can be done:

1. Create the script you feel sells;

2. Assemble a small panel of 4WD driver trainers (real ones, not normal driver trainers with who only ever use controlled courses with stock cars);

3. Show the panel the script, storyboard, idea and the resulting video;

4. Listen to what they have to say;

5. Modify as appropriate.

Repeat until everybody’s happy.   Now this isn’t as simple as it seems, given limited budgets, unlimited client expectations, short timeframes and the like, it’d be a major hassle that would be resented.  But, it’s safety and that trumps all so the status quo is not an option.  Today, nobody gets to say safety is too hard, so why should the advertising industry be any different?   Ad agencies are the first to tell you how creative and clever they are.  Well then, if you’re so smart, create something that promotes the brand and at the same time doesn’t show people techniques that will get them into trouble.  And in fairness, often the agency will rely on client (car marker) advice about what can and cannot be done, and unfortunately not all people that work in car marketing have a clue about cars.  Or 4WDs.  The bottom line:   It is not responsible to create advertisements that feature 4X4 driving or recovery and not have them vetted for safety messages by experts.

How about a mark of approval?

Here’s an idea, not one I’ve discussed with the relevant people, but anyway. Could be that Four-Wheel-Drive Australia (peak body of 4WD clubs in Australia) approves ads for safety and environmental responsibility, which gives manufacturers the right to use a little Endorsed by FWDA logo on the ad.  Manufacturers love that sort of stuff for credibility, FWDA could charge a small fee, and everybody else gets cool ads that reinforce safe practice. Win all the way.  

What’s with this macho advertising anyway?

Most 4×4 TV adverts focus on the macho side of things. Big, burly bloke doing heroic things like recovering poor, wimpily-built wusses from trouble. Fast, semi-skillful driving, kicking up dirt and stones. Do they think we’re all 13 years old or what?   This d#$k-swinging crap doesn’t do anything for me, but then again I’ve only been in this game for years as a journalist, club member and trainer.  I presume the design of all these adverts is based on solid mountains of market-research evidence, A/B trials and the like backed up with diligent analysis of actual results. I’d hate to think it’s all dreamed up a bunch of advertising types sat around a table who are just making it up as they go along and don’t know their low-range from their lockers.  

Driving at high speed through water is a bad idea for the car, the environment, the track and you run the risk of loss of control. Looks spectacular, but surely creative minds can think of ways to make an impression without resorting to this sort of poor driving?

Example of a great 4WD advertisement

Everybody loves this ad.  Why?  Because it’s funny.  Yet there’s no unsafe practices, and where it descends into a joke – and it does – then it’s obvious to the layperson it’s not real so it doesn’t matter.   The fence falling down, the dog, everything is clearly a joke, but it gets the Hilux’s rough, tough image across very nicely indeed.  Good work, Toyota.

 What not to show in 4WD advertisements

This could be the start of a Do Not Show list:

  • Driving in saltwater.  Easy way to wreck a car through rust or shorting electrics, and that’s if the waves don’t get you first.  If people do it knowing the consequences, well it’s a free world, but Joe Average has no idea what saltwater does to a car.  Best to avoid any water-on-sand shots entirely.
  • Driving fast through water or mud.  Kills the car, risks loss of control and damages the track and surrounds. Too fast = when anything splashes up further than the top of the wheels.
  • Driving fast offroad.  Just not the way it should be done.  Unless you are advertising a Bowler Wildcat on a rally course, in which case all is fine.  Too fast = when a wheel lifts off the ground and you’re not in low range.
  • Recoveries – unless you are going to take the time to get it exactly right, which takes a lot of effort. And safe recoveries tend to be boring.
  • Drifting. 4WDs can be drifted on dirt roads, but shouldn’t be unless you’re rallying off public roads.  So, cut out the sideways unless it’s clearly in a competition context (and please, any closeups of the driver should be of the pro you use, not the actor stuffing up hand position on the steering wheel and looking in the wrong direction)

 Adverts don’t need to be boring closeups of cars idling on a flat surface.  Look at the ‘Bugger’ ad above.  It shouldn’t be that hard to create something that looks good, is safe, and promotes the brand message.    The title image: That’s a still from a recent ute advert.  One of the things the advert got wrong was the way the strap is prepared.  The image shows the strap jumbled up, which means it could have been knotted and it is hard to gauge how much slack is used.  The correct way is to lay the strap out neatly, and put the slack near the recovering vehicle so there is minimal dragging of the strap on the ground.   I think there’s at least a dampener on the strap but it’s hard to be sure.

This topic has been discussed a bit over a few different posts at my Facebook page.  Feel free to comment.

The hall of shame


Demonstrating how to ruin a perfectly good car.  How about a warranty claim after this treatment? mini-salt

Nissan 4X4 Australia

Demonstrating very poor track driving.

Nissan-errorThe last poster got it right. Reasons why this is a bad example:

1. Damages the track – erosion, sends water everywhere 2. Damages the car – shoots muddy water up into everything under pressure 3. Risks loss of control – the faster you go, the bigger the potential crash.  


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  1. Oh well Robert, seeing as you can’t show any performance with on-road ads any more (OOOh it will make hooooons!)
    I reckon the 4X4 advertisers are just taking advantage of what they can.
    A great example of this advertising bullcrap is the towing capacity. Really, is anyone thick enough to tow 3500kg with a Holden / Nissan / _______ ute/Thai truck??? (I’d like to see that….No …Really…. show me!) (Then show me the repair bills)
    I’m sure the nannies (gov.) will get around to banning it like everything else, so don’t fret! 🙂

    1. Hey Maggie! I’m not so sure about adverts showing cars being driven fast and hoonery. I’ve found if people want to hoon, they’ll hoon regardless.

      Also as per the article the big difference is that everybody knows hooning on public roadsis wrong. But with recoveries/4WD techniques…how does Joe Average know what’s wrong and what’s right?

  2. We need to see 4×4 in 4×4 environment doing its thing as that is the whole idea of buying one
    Sure being a bush vandal or damaging the vehicle is wrong, but how about showing a 4×4 and what it can do v’s a normal vehicle, like LandRover driving the Disco? up, in and through a harge plane, that was a great theme
    I love diff locks!

    1. We agree with that sentiment, but the problem is many of the ads don’t show the 4x4s doing the ‘right’ thing. Sure, you can bash through the bush like a loon… for about 5min until you break something.
      And the snatch strap recovery Robert wrote about was embarrassing from a brand that’s investing heavily in building an off-road community. Even some of its instructional videos are showing the wrong way to do things…

  3. In my mind the latest ad to which you refer actually undermines the 4×4’s off-road credentials. I am a semi-experienced four wheel driver and every time I see this ad I cringe. Anyone who recovers using a tie down point (as opposed to a recovery point) with an incorrectly laid out strap at high speed probably doesn’t know much about 4WDing and therefore they are (in marketing speak) not a credible source.

    All of these dual cabs are invading the space created by the Hilux which became a dominant force in this segment due to it’s off road capabilities, however the followers are not selling the right attributes. And as you have pointed out in this article, can lead to some dreadful consequences as the recent incident in NSW has highlighted.

  4. if you want to watch stupid driving just watch ”TOP GEAR” all done on an air strip and safe, some time,s !!,no adds for Utes and cars which ,like you stated !!! should be driven properly.
    drive safe people ???

  5. I must agree with your sentiments. I also feel that it encourages people to do these things. As a trainer I see a lot of inexperience and the problem is that everyone feels they are great drivers and trying to show them differently is very difficult. If a large manufacturer “okays” this style of driving in an advert it will be seen to be acceptable behaviour.

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