Toyota and BMW: Activists hijack billboards to highlight ‘misleading adverts’ from car companies

The posters, appearing across Europe, feature artwork from a number of different artists.
The posters, appearing across Europe, feature artwork from a number of different artists. Copyright No Added Sugar/Brandalism Project
By Rosie Frost
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Billboards and bus stops across Europe have been covered with parody artwork calling on governments to introduce a tobacco-style ban on advertising high carbon products.


More than 400 billboards and bus stops across Europe were hijacked this weekend by activists calling out car companies Toyota and BMW.

The billboards in Belgium, France, Germany and England highlight “misleading adverts and aggressive lobbying tactics” used by these two companies, say Brandalism and Extinction Rebellion, the groups behind the parody campaign.

They add that, despite Toyota and BMW adverts emphasising their electric vehicles (EVs), both manufacturers are still “heavily invested in selling polluting combustion engine vehicles”.

Folkawolf/Brandalism Project
Activists hijacked more than 400 billboards and bus stops, like this one in Brighton.Folkawolf/Brandalism Project

It comes as the European Motor Show opens its doors in Brussels on its 100th anniversary.

Are car companies misleading the public with their adverts?

While global EV sales doubled in 2021, a Greenpeace report found that Toyota lagged furthest behind its competitors in the transition away from fossil fuels. Zero emissions vehicles made up just 0.2 per cent of the company’s total sales - the lowest proportion out of the top 10 car manufacturers in the world.

And, according to InfluenceMap, a global database of corporate climate lobbying, the company was ranked as the 10th worst in the world. BMW was ranked 16th - the second worst automotive brand in the world.

Brandalism Project
One of the hijacked advertisements seen outside the Porsche museum in Stuttgart.Brandalism Project

“Toyota have pushed their ‘Beyond Zero’ sustainability adverts whilst lobbying governments around the world to weaken air quality plans and threatening legal action to protect their profits over a liveable climate,” says Tona Merriman, a spokesperson for Brandalism.

“Toyota and BMW use slick marketing campaigns to promote over-sized SUV models that clog up urban neighbourhoods.”

Merriman adds that electric SUVs aren’t a solution either as most are too big for parking spaces and can pose an increased risk to pedestrians - especially children.

Euronews Green has reached out to Toyota and BMW for comment. 

A ban on advertising for high carbon products

The parody adverts were installed by activists from Subvertisers International, Brandalism and Extinction Rebellion. 

They feature images of the automotive brands’ vehicles, one showing a Toyota Landcruiser driving through urban streets as pedestrians rush to move out of the way.

Ann Nichols/Brandalism Project
This parody advert in Norwich, UK shows pedestrians diving out of the way of a Toyota LandcruiserAnn Nichols/Brandalism Project

Another, seen at Brussels’ Midi train station, is a parody of BMW’s ‘Add Driving Pleasure’ slogan which has been changed to ‘Add Climate Breakdown’.

Activists are using the campaign to call for governments to regulate adverts for environmentally harmful products and prevent misleading claims from big polluters.

Campaigners from Greenpeace International, Résistance à l’Agression Publicitaire, Climáximo and more than 35 other organisations are calling for a tobacco-style ban on adverts for high carbon products. Some countries and individual cities - like Amsterdam - have already introduced bans on advertising based on environmental concerns.

Merny Wernz/Brandalism Project
A parody BMW ad in Brussels replaces one of the company's slogans.Merny Wernz/Brandalism Project

A UN High-Level Expert Group also recently called for the introduction of regulatory requirements to help companies reach net zero. These include avoiding misleading environmental claims and limiting lobbying activities.

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