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ASA refutes bias claims as activists criticize handling of Land Rover complaints

The ASA has overruled a draft ruling to ban Land Rover Defender ads

The Advertising Standards Association (ASA) has rebuffed claims from environmentalists that it is biased and not doing enough to clamp down on greenwashing after it decided not to ban a series of Land Rover Defender ads.

Green activists from Adfree Cities have criticized the ASA after its council overturned a draft ruling against Land Rover, with one member, Robbie Gillert, claiming the watchdog is “too slow, too reluctant to investigate and lacking any enforcement teeth if they do.”

The ASA has defended itself against complaints that it claims to “misrepresent” its funding model and “misrepresent” recent rulings on greenwashing investigations including EasyJet, Qatar Airways and Chevron.

In a statement to The Drum, the watchdog reaffirmed its position as an independent body and that it “takes [greenwashing] very seriously, as shown by our many rulings in this area and our ambitious program of work we have coming up around climate change.”

The ad in question featured a Defender driving in the forest with the strapline “Life is so much better without restrictions.” The accompanying text claimed the vehicle has the “capacity to go almost anywhere and do anything. If you take one for an extended test drive ... a whole new world of freedom awaits.”

The ASA initially drafted a recommendation to ban the ad after it received 96 complaints that the ad encouraged damage to the environment.

The watchdog’s draft ruling said: “The overall impression of the ad suggested that the vehicle could be driven without any restrictions, including in ecologically sensitive and off-road environments such as forests, wherein doing so it would be likely to cause damage to vulnerable habitats and vegetation.

“We considered that the ad encouraged and condoned the use of a vehicle in a way that was detrimental to ecologically sensitive environments and was therefore socially irresponsible.”

The decision to overrule fell to the council, the ASA’s independent jury, which disagreed that the complaints broke the rules. According to the council, consumers would understand “Life is so much better without restrictions” as a slogan to refer to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, rather than the environment.

They also determined that it was not “clear that the vehicle was definitely driving off-road, illegally or irresponsibly.”

The ASA said the decision demonstrated its robust process and evidence-led approach to final rulings.

“It is in the nature of a complaints process that those who don’t have their complaints upheld will sometimes feel disappointed,” it said.

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