TV Ads Say S.U.V. Owners Support Terrorists

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TV Ads Say S.U.V. Owners Support Terrorists

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 -- Ratcheting up the debate over sport utility vehicles, new television commercials suggest that people who buy the vehicles are supporting terrorists. The commercials are so provocative that some television stations are refusing to run them.

Patterned after the commercials that try to discourage drug use by suggesting that profits from illegal drugs go to terrorists, the new commercials say that money for gas needed for S.U.V.'s goes to terrorists.

"This is George," a girl's voice says of an oblivious man at a gas station. "This is the gas that George bought for his S.U.V." The screen then shows a map of the Middle East. "These are the countries where the executives bought the oil that made the gas that George bought for his S.U.V." The picture switches to a scene of armed terrorists in a desert. "And these are the terrorists who get money from those countries every time George fills up his S.U.V."

A second commercial depicts a series of ordinary Americans saying things like: "I helped hijack an airplane"; "I gave money to a terrorist training camp in a foreign country"; "What if I need to go off-road?"

At the close, the screen is filled with the words: "What is your S.U.V. doing to our national security?"

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The two 30-second commercials are the brainchild of the author and columnist Arianna Huffington. Her target audience, she said, is Detroit and Congress, especially the Republicans and Democrats who last year voted against a bill, sponsored by Senators John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, that would have raised fuel-efficiency standards.

Spokesmen for the automakers dismissed the commercials.

Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said of Ms. Huffington, "Her opinion is out-voted every year by Americans who buy S.U.V.'s for their safety, comfort and versatility." He said that S.U.V.'s now account for 21 percent of the market.

In an interview, Senator Kerry distanced himself from the commercials. He said that rather than oppose S.U.V.'s outright, he believed they should be more efficient.

"I haven't seen these commercials," he said, "but anybody can drive as large an S.U.V. as they want, though it can be more efficient than it is today."

Ms. Huffington's group, which calls itself the Detroit Project, has bought almost $200,000 of air time for the commercials, to run from Sunday to Thursday. While the group may lose some viewers if stations refuse to run the advertisements, the message is attracting attention through news coverage.

The advertisements are to be broadcast on "Meet The Press," "Face the Nation" and "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and Washington.

But some local affiliates say they will not run them. At the ABC affiliate in New York, Art Moore, director of programming, said, "There were a lot of statements being made that were not backed up, and they're talking about hot-button issues."

Ms. Huffington said she got the idea for the commercials while watching the antidrug commercials, sponsored by the Bush administration. In her syndicated column, she asked readers if they would be willing to pay for "a people's ad campaign to jolt our leaders into reality."

She said she received 5,000 e-mail messages and eventually raised $50,000 from the public. Bigger contributors included Steve Bing, the film producer; Larry David, the comedian and "Seinfeld" co-creator; and Norman Lear, the television producer.

Katharine Q. Seelye

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28 Responses:

  1. greyhame says:

    "I haven't seen these commercials," he said, "but anybody can drive as large an S.U.V. as they want, though it can be more efficient than it is today."

    We may have an early contender for non-statement of the year.

  2. baconmonkey says:

    this won't make people abandon SUVs. applying the same stigma that the Station Wagon and Mini Van have to them will. if enough TV shows and especially movies show the stereotyped suburban soccer mom and fat, balding accountant driving SUVs, and worrying about scratches in the paint of their "off road" vehicle, they will go out of vogue.

    besides, detroit is already trying to position a quasi-rally car as the next thing. they look more like if a car and an SUV had a kid - a taller thick looking car.

    despite the fact that they are NOT safer than cars, they give a sense of safety, and statistics will never combat that. jst look how many people fear flying, which is THE safest way to travel.

    pretty much the only way to reduce their appeal, if SUVs are made to appear Uncool via association with negative sterotypes.

    kinda like the way to make teens hate anything, is to associate it with their parents.

    • jwz says:

      A really good way to reduce their appeal would be to remove the damned tax loopholes that make them cheaper to own than real cars, and make the owners actually pay their own way. They may still be "cool" but at least they'd be less common by virtue of being less affordable.

      • mangosteen says:

        I'd have to say that "likening them to minivans" is probably the most effective idea.

        Walking around Harvard Sq., I noticed that someone was (evidently) sticking flyers under the windshields of SUVs that read:

        NICE MINIVAN!!!
        (how's the mileage?)

        Not too whiny or preachy, and gets the whole "no, we're not fooled" message across.

  3. abates says:

    If an advert was made in New Zealand to stop people buying SUVs, it would go more like this:
    split screen: at the top, a young father picking up his children in an SUV. at the bottom, the same father picking up his children in a station-wagon.

    Both top and bottom frame would play identically - the father driving along, talking to his children about what they'd been doing at school...

    Then suddenly, he takes a corner too fast! The station-wagon in the bottom frame takes the corner fine and for the remainder of the advert, the bottom frame shows the empty street corner.

    But in the top frame, the SUV has flipped over and the roof has crumpled. One door has broken off, and inside we can see the twisted bodies of the family, barring the youngest, who is still strapped upside down in his seat, yelling "Daddy! Daddy!"

    Here, road safety adverts only play after 8:30pm :)

    • 33mhz says:

      I think I like New Zealand's style.

    • naturalborn says:

      I've long thought a good anti-drunk driving ad would be a 15-second spot which started with someone stumbling out of a bar obviously drunk, then cut to them getting into a grisly and obviously lethal car accident. No voice-over.

      • abates says:

        They've done that here as well. :)

        One recently made advert has shots of a woman drinking at a friends place... interspersed with this are shots from later on. Another woman getting into a parked car, obviously getting ready to drive off, when drunk woman rear-ends her. Drunk woman jumps out of her car, and sticks her head in the back window of the other woman's car.

        The other woman is moaning "my baby!". Drunk woman sees the infant safely tucked into the carseat in the back, and tells the other woman that her baby is safe and sound, but the other woman keeps moaning. So drunk women looks in the front seat...

        and sees that the other woman is heavily pregnant and has obviously been thrown against the steering wheel.

        Shock tactics, yes, but it gets the message across quite well... Most of the road safety adverts here tend to be aimed at drunk-driving, though some are aimed at speeding and the not wearing of seatbelts... The road toll has been dropping.

        • baconmonkey says:

          you can't do that here, that would make consumers uncomfortable, and might cave in the little head-shaped holes in the sand that everyone is required by law to have.

      • reddragdiva says:

        That's how we do them in Australia. The Transport Accident Commission in Victoria has a famous series of what are basically 30-second government-funded splatter films. As immortalised by This Is Serious Mum in their hit song "Greg! The Stop Sign!"

      • vsync says:

        At (of all places) the local high school, they have one of those light-up raster message displays. It displays an animation of some guy driving in his car, who then hits something, goes flying through the windshield and lands headfirst on the pavement. Then his little pixelated legs twitch helplessly in the air while glowing red blood flows from his head.

        "Buckle Up."

        I was pleasantly surprised that a public educational institution would display something so amusingly morbid.

  4. slithytove says:

    Arianna Huffington is getting weirder and weirder.

    • marmoset says:

      You say that like it's a bad thing.

      • slithytove says:

        I'm mistrustful of anyone whose politics swivel 180 degrees in a few years. How sincere are they? Or are they just looking to jump on the fastest horse, or be in with the hip crowd, or get the most media? David Brock, Scott Ritter, and Thomas Becket are all examples of such a rapid reversal of previous (apparently) strongly held political opinion.

  5. You gotta wonder how easily the Masters of the Universe bitchslap their newspeople into writing copy such as this:

    "New campaign in SUV battle
    Ads claim connection between SUV drivers and terrorism
    By Dan Lothian, NBC NEWS
    Jan. 7 - SUVs are in a peculiar position in the American psyche these days. They are at once very popular and also despised; popular for their room, power and safety, despised for their gas-guzzling, more-power-than-is-necessary appetite. Now a familiar political and social commentator has decided the best way to attack SUV drivers is to accuse them of aiding terrorism. Is that fair?"

    Who is NBC tied with in the automotive industry? Or, do you think it's lower than that, and maybe some sweating suburbanite's pissed about the commercial and let that leak through in the copy?

    Either way, it's making me giggle my high yellow ass off. Boy, that Huffington lady's got cojones the size of basketballs.



  6. hfx_ben says:

    Arianna Huffington is a regular at places like Salon (and OverthrowGovernment). Here's a slice from her latest, Road Outrage: How Corporate Greed And Political Corruption Paved The Way For The SUV Explosion from

    "I was surprised," said Karl Wizinsky, a health care consultant from Michigan who just bought a giant Ford Excursion even though he admits he doesn't really need it, "that a $32,000 credit on a $47,000 purchase was available in the first year. I mean, it is a substantial credit." Yes, it is. And it's created a substantial -- and artificial -- demand.
    It's the kind of lunatic public policy that makes you want to slam on your brakes and scream out your car window: How can this kind of thing happen?
    The answer is as simple as it is distressing: special interest money has once again trumped the public interest. That's why the auto industry was able to turn its back on hybrid technology for so long, and why our politicians refuse to this day to demand that the auto industry change its hydrocarbon-loving ways.

  7. justinmm2 says:

    The ad detailed in the post seems to draw a connection from buying gas to funding terrorism. While the obvious implication is that SUVs consume a lot of petrol, what about regular cars? They consume gas, too....

    • slithytove says:

      Hell, what about homes with oil heat? And trains, and planes, and buses, and trucking, and boats, and polymers, and on, and on? Modern life is petroleum-based. How much of a role do SUV's really play?

      I'm not holding my breath waiting for Arianna to tell us.

      • If you tell the grocery bagger "plastic", the terrorists have already won.

      • jwz says:
        • Yes, it's somewhat silly, because it's also a parody of the equally silly commercials claiming that buying drugs funds terrorism. Except those commercials were paid for with your tax dollars.
        • The argument that oil funds terrorism is a little bit less silly than the argument that drugs do, because:
        • While the oil industry enriches George Bush personally, the drug trade directly funds the CIA, resulting in lower taxes for Our Fellow Americans.
        • baconmonkey says:

          the drugs = terrorism charge is particularly crazy, because

          1. the Taliban wiped out the opium trade in afghanistan - which resumes once the pro-US govt was installed.
          2. most ecstacy comes from the netherlands
          3. most pot comes from our border countries.
          4. meth, mushrooms and acid are mainly from the US.

          Cocaine is about the only drug that could be claimed to have any terror ties, but that's all south american regimes and warlords fighting amongst themselves.

    • scjody says:

      Well, yeah:

      • bubbles510 says:

        Funny, the sticker is made out of vinyl and he has excuses written for that. But for some reason, the excuses for using gas aren't credible to him? What about all the other products u guys mentioned. Some people need to rethink some things I guess. Also, you're right about the drug thing. Many people are so dumb. I can't believe that they actually believe all the stuff they hear.
        Anyways, if they care so much about the gas, maybe they should do more encouraging of better public transportation in the US and stop nagging consumers about something they don't have so much control over. There are small cars that use as much gas as SUV's too, but we can't get around using cars in the US.

        • jwz says:

          Yeah, it was so lame of him to not present a complete, total, and inarguably correct solution to all of these complicated and interconnected issues on his sticker!

          The point of hacks like this sticker are to get people to think about the issues.

          This is good.

          Because most people don't.

        • vsync says:

          There are small cars that use as much gas as SUV's too, but we can't get around using cars in the US.

          Yay, fallacious reasoning!

          1. Cars are necessary.
          2. There exist ridiculously inefficient cars.
          3. Therefore, we should all feel good about driving SUVs, which are not only inefficient, but bulky and unsafe?

          Not to mention that I did fine without a car the whole time I was living in San Francisco and working in Redwood City, I could have done all right in Westminster without one (and often rode my bike to work when it was warm out), and I'm only driving now because there is no regional public transportation here.

          Sure, driving (especially fast) is fun, but at least I don't have to feel too guilty about the luxury, at least when speaking relativistically. My 1995 Civic gets 36mi/gal with high-octane gasoline (I was massively annoyed when I managed to get only 28mi/gal when charging up mountain passes). My fianceé's 2002 Rio gets closer to 40mi/gal. So Honda and Kia use efficient engines. But look at their SUVs: 2003 Kia Sorento - 20mi/gal; 2002 Kia Sportage - 22mi/gal; 2003 Honda CR-V - 28mi/gal; 2003 Honda Pilot - 22mi/gal; 2003 Honda Element - 26mi/gal. The best ones are still missing close to a third of the mileage of the cars. The 2003 Honda Oddysey only gets 25mi/gal and the 2003 Kia Sedona a horrific 20mi/gal, but at least they don't roll over in a slight breeze and generally only driven by those who need them.

          The sad thing is that out here, people in SUVs are the ones I see driving 15mi/hr under the speed limit, braking in a panic at every gentle curve in the road, and generally behaving even more like total idiots at the slightest hint of inclement weather. I fear what they'd do if confronted by an actual dirt road.

          • bubbles510 says:

            I'm only driving now because there is no regional public transportation here.

            Is that not what I said? In most areas in the U.S., cars are necessary. I live in a country that I can ride my bike to the train station and I personally don't like SUV's, but that isn't what we are talking about so I didn't mention it. I did not say that people should feel so grand about driving SUV's, I was simply commenting on the idea about gas. And the fact that they are unsafe is not the arguement that we're talking about either. I was making the point that the dummy who made the sticker was just that, a dummy, and also that the US doesn't do very much at all to control our gas use, which could be argued as to why we have so much interest in the Middle East. Maybe they should look at what some other countries have done, such as make fuel out of crops.
            I was simply stating that there are other things to do about the problems rather than just hassel consumers.

            People should make sure that they know what they are arguing against before they start saying things that make them sound dumber than the people who they are supposedly criticizing.