Nissan North America and its advertising agency, TBWA Worldwide, have reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over claims that a TV commercial for the Nissan Frontier misled consumers about the pickup truck's hill-climbing prowess.
The 30-second advertisement, "Hill Climb," showed a Frontier pushing a stranded dune buggy up a steep sand dune -- something the truck could not actually do.
Both the truck and dune buggy were actually towed up the hill using cables, the FTC said in announcing today's settlement, which prohibits Nissan and TBWA from using potentially misleading demonstrations in future advertisements for pickups.
"Special effects in ads can be entertaining, but advertisers can't use them to misrepresent what a product can do," Jessica Rich, the director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "This ad made the Nissan Frontier appear capable of doing something it can't do."
The advertisement did contain a disclaimer in small print: "Fictionalization. Do not attempt." But that was not enough to satisfy the FTC.
The agency noted that the video was filmed in a way that made it seem as if it had been shot on a camera phone, adding to the realistic nature of the commercial. It was also part of a campaign in which the Frontier achieved other over-the-top feats that the truck obviously wasn't capable of, like rushing onto a runway and saving a jet with landing-gear problems. Judging from YouTube reactions, the news-footage style of that ad fooled more than a few people.
Nissan and TBWA will not pay any fines under the settlement. In near-identical statements, the two companies said they have no intention of misleading customers.
"Nissan takes its commitment to fair and truthful advertising seriously," Nissan spokesman Travis Parman wrote in an e-mail. "The company has been and remains committed to complying with the law."
A recent ad for the Nissan Rogue shows the vehicle jumping a ramp and driving on top of a train. That ad contains multiple disclaimers, including: "Fantasy, not attempt," "Cars can't jump on trains" and "Still professional driver on closed course. Do not attempt."