Range Rover ad irks foes of off-roading on federal land

October 10, 2013

Of course, we’ve all seen the warnings that accompany those daredevil car ads admonishing us not to try such feats ourselves, or warning us that they’re being pulled off by a “professional driver on a closed course.”

But the whole idea of advertisements is to inspire us… to buy what they’re selling, sure. And maybe in other ways, too. Some folks, it seems, have a problem with a new TV commercial that they say promotes off-roading on federal lands, which is a distinct no-no.

Here’s what’s got the enviros in a snit: A new ad for the 2014 Range Rover Sport shows the rugged-yet-luxurious SUV scaling the snow-crusted Pike’s Peak, which is part of the National Forest system. Up the paved roads of the mountain the truck goes. And then — as a group of impressed guys who look like a pit crew, wearing matching Range Rover jackets and hats, look on — the vehicle appears to go over the top and down the other, unpaved side.

Here’s the spot:

The stunt didn’t sit well with some viewers. “It clearly goes against the basic philosophy of ethical attitudes and proper driver behavior for using OHV’s [off-highway vehicles] anywhere, let alone on NFS lands,” Jack Gregory, a retired Forest Service officer, wrote to the Forest Service. (Jeff Ruch, the head of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, shared the missive with us.)

Forest Service spokesman Leo Kay, one of the few employees of the agency still in the office during the government shutdown, tells the Loop that the car did not actually go off-road on Forest Service land during filming, though it appeared to, through the use of nifty editing and the wonders of modern film-making technology.

And he says he’s unsure of the precise wording of the permit that the car company got to film the commercial there. The folks who handle those are furloughed. “It’s kind of a ghost town around here,” he says.

But precedent exists for curtailing how film crews portray public land. When the Forest Service issues permits for crews to film in wilderness areas, for example, the agency requires them to “keep within the spirit” of the 1964 Wilderness Act, Kay explains. That might mean that they wouldn’t be allowed to depict littering, say, or tossing lit matches around.

Clearly, though, the Forest Service isn’t up in arms over the commercial. At least it’s not protesting the way the National Park Service did back in 2003, when a Metamucil commercial depicted a Park Service Ranger pouring some of the regularity-inducing product into Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser.

“This advertisement goes against all of the National Park Service’s efforts to encourage people not to put foreign objects into the thermal features,” NPS sniffed at the time.

In a statement, Range Rover tells the Loop that viewers needn’t take what they see so literally.  “As is typical in much of advertising, there are scenes that are realistic but not meant to be taken literally, including both racing up the mountain, as well as driving off road back down, though the vehicle is more than capable of both.”

Interestingly, the Forest Service and Land Rover, the parent company of Range Rover, are both partners in a non-profit called “Tread Lightly” which urges off-road drivers to “travel responsibly on designated roads, trails or areas.”

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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Emily Heil · October 9, 2013