Activists hijack billboards in Brussels to call out misleading car ads

Activists hijack billboards in Brussels to call out misleading car ads
Activists putting up parody posters in Brussels. Credit: Brandalism

Activists installed over 400 fake advertising billboards across Europe, including in Brussels, this weekend to call out misleading adverts by car companies Toyota and BMW.

Three activist groups (Subvertisers' International, Brandalism and Extinction Rebellion) targeted Toyota and BMW by placing parody advertising billboards just as the European Motor Show in Brussels gets underway. They are calling on governments to introduce "tobacco-style" advertising bans on environmentally harmful products, such as SUVs.

"Toyota and BMW use slick marketing campaigns to promote over-sized SUV models that clog up urban neighbourhoods," said Brandalism spokesperson Tona Merriman, adding that these large vehicles present an increased risk to pedestrians.

One parody ad showed a Toyota SUV dominating a street. Credit: Lindsay Grime/ Brandalism

The creatively designed posters feature images of "highly polluting" vehicles, with one artwork showing a Toyota Landcruiser driving through urban streets as pram-pushing pedestrians, children and cyclists rush to get out of the way.

'Lies and aggressive lobbying'

The "hijacked" billboards aim to highlight misleading adverts, with the activist groups explaining that, while Toyota and BMW often draw attention to their electric vehicle (EV) range in their adverts, both are still heavily invested in selling highly polluting combustion engine vehicles.

"In 2021, just 0.2% of cars sold by Toyota were EVs, of which only 0.5% were battery EVs," Merriman explained. "Meanwhile, 99% were hybrids (partly powered by fossil fuels), of which 4% were plug-in hybrid EVs, emissions from which can be up to 12 times higher than reported."

With their actions, the organisations also called out the companies' aggressive lobbying against climate policy. They pointed to the fact that, last year, Toyota was ranked the 10th worst company in the world by InfluenceMap for their anti-climate lobbying, the worst ranking for any car manufacturer. (BMW was ranked 16th worst overall.)

A hijacked advertising board next to a bus stop. Credit: Simon Beavis

"While Toyota improved its climate policy engagement transparency over the past year, it continues to oppose policies designed to phase out the internal combustion engine," the report noted.

Merriman also noted that, while Toyota was pushing its 'Beyond Zero' sustainability adverts, it was also lobbying governments around the world to weaken air quality plans and threatening legal action to protect their profits: "Their adverts are duplicitous."

More robust policies needed

With these actions, the activists are aiming to secure more robust policies from governments to regulate the advertisement of environmentally harmful products — including an "immediate end" to advertising for the most polluting vehicles, especially SUVs —  and to prevent misleading claims from big polluters regarding their environmental impact.

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The activist groups noted that there is "growing international momentum" for introducing tobacco-style advertising bans on such products.

Campaigners from Adfree Cities (UK), Badvertising (UK), Résistance à l’Agression Publicitaire (France), Climáximo (Portugal), Greenpeace International and 35 other organisations have also called for this type of legislation.

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