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Mazda’s new SUV gets fictional approval from the Lorax and the Truffula Trees, but no one else

February 29, 2012

This analysis of the cross-promotional and hyper-commercial nature of the Lorax film with Mazda, was written by Kevin Timmer.

Mazda has partnered with Universal Pictures upcoming release of the film “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax 3D” in a commercial for the car company’s compact SUV, the CX-5.

In the ad we see the “crossover SUV” driving on a Truffula tree-lined road with a saccharine, Amélieësque banjo strumming.  The narrator rhetorically asks us who:

Delivers fuel efficiency without compromising the joy of driving?”  (A Brown Bar-ba-loot shrugs. “Mazda.  With Skyactiv technology”, he says.)

Received the only certified Truffula Tree Seal of Approval?” (A Swomee-Swan squawks. “Mazda.  With Skyactiv technology”, he repeats.)

Before the narrator can even start asking his next question the Lorax chimes in. (voiced by Danny DeVito) Annoyed by the repetition, he who speaks for the trees finally speaks for the audience,

I don’t know, you’ve only said it like a billion times,” in DeVito’s recognizably angry, throaty voice that’s sure to perpetuate the destructive idea of the environmentalist as an uncooperative, cynical grouch.

The narrator returns, “Only Mazda could re-imagine driving with revolutionary Skyaactiv technology,” as two Humming-Fish sell out with “Truffula Tree Friendly” and “Uncompromised Driving” placards.

The car keeps driving along the rolling hills of orange-, red- and pink-tuffed trees.

We build Mazdas.  What do you drive?”  (Surely not the even greener horse-drawn Once-ler Wagon)

“Zoom Zoom,” is whispered by a child off-screen

“Ahem.  Aren’t you forgetting something?”  The Lorax reminds the narrator it’s time to scratch HIS back as the scene turns into a white, Mazda logo’d background.

Oh and do see Dr. Seuss’s the Lorax in theaters this March.”

Dr. Seuss’ book “The Lorax”, published in 1971 by Random House, is a fable about consumerism and pollution told from the perspective of The Once-ler, a former entrepreneur who made a profit from cutting down Truffula trees to make a multi-purpose clothing item called a Thneed.  As business booms he’s visited by the Lorax and asked to stop cutting down so many trees.   The Once-ler ignores these pleas and eventually finds no more Truffula trees in a polluted landscape and then no more profits.  The story is recounted to a child who is entrusted with “the last Truffula seed of them all” and told to grow a new forest.  The book is currently #14 on Amazon.com’s list of most popular books, and #2 on their list of Children’s Classics (alongside five other Seuss titles in the top 20).  Personally, this book had a significant impact on this writer’s youth.

Universal Pictures previously adapted “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Cat in the Hat” into live-action films starring comedians Jim Carrey and Mike Meyers as the titular characters.  There was no reason to believe the latest adaptation would be any better or NOT have tie-ins.  “The Cat in the Hat” partnered in 2003 with junk food companies aimed at children like Burger King, Kellogg’s, Hershey, Pepsi as well as MasterCard, Febreze and Ray-o-Vac batteries.  In 2000 “The Grinch”‘s face was seen on Oreos, Sprite, stamps from the US Post Office and McDonald’s Happy Meals.

“Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax 3D”, rated PG, will be released on March 2nd, the author’s birthday, in 269 Imax screens in the US in addition to thousands of other traditional, digital and digital 3D screens.  It is estimated that many millions of Americans, especially impressionable children, will be seeing this film this spring.

A fourth grade class from Massachusetts successfully petitioned Universal to “green up” the website promoting the movie, saying, “Our 4th grade class read Dr. Seuss’s, The Lorax, and liked that the Lorax character “spoke for the trees.” We do this at our school by running a recycling program and by canceling unwanted catalogs -www.CatalogCancelingChallenge.com! The book encourages people to help the planet. We enjoyed that in the end the Once-ler realized that life is not just about making money, it’s about what’s best for others and the environment.

We were excited for The Lorax movie to come out in March, but when we went to the movie website, there was absolutely nothing about saving the Earth which is what Dr. Seuss wanted us to learn.  The site is more about selling tickets. The trailer did not include much about the environment, either!”

Early in February Reuters re-printed a Universal Pictures press release that justified the distributor’s partnerships with 70 other companies.

By bringing Dr. Seuss’ messages from “The Lorax” to consumers, UP&L and its partners hope to help empower consumers, young and old, to make more informed choices for their families and the environment, as well as support smarter, environmentally-conscious choices in everyday life.

To date, Universal has 69 partners globally totaling $58.4 million in media value.  Domestic partners include; The Environmental Protection Agency, Seventh Generation, Whole Foods Market, HP, Mazda, Comcast, DoubleTree by Hilton, Pottery Barn Kids, Stonyfield Farms, and, returning for its second partnership with Universal and Illumination Entertainment, IHOP.  This marks the first-ever major studio film promotion for Whole Foods Market and Seventh Generation and the first ever on-pack promotion for Stonyfield Farms.”

“For years The Lorax has been inspiring people of all ages to take part in protecting their environment.  Dr. Seuss’ classic is an enduring and meaningful story about how valuable our environment is, and how we all have a responsibility to protect it,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

“Help[ing] consumers take their own steps to cut energy use,” is another ploy to make the average consumer think that they must take the initiative “to shrink their carbon footprint and protect our planet”.  This ignores the real culprit of energy consumption and environmental degradation: industrial corporations that make these products and have the money to advertise the Gandhian “Be the Change…” philosophy and the products themselves.  This echoes the enterprising Once-ler’s interpretation of the Lorax’s “UNLESS” engraved on his stump to mean, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”  And this is accepted as the path to sustainability by most on the left.

This promotes green capitalism (the idea of environmentally sustainable economic growth) and lifestyle capitalism (the idea that the only way to save the planet is to buy something).  “Reduce, reuse, recycle” isn’t a message that’s profitable enough to advertise unless it’s printed on a bag.

The Guardian noticed several of the Ten Signs of Greenwash from sustainability communications agency Futerra’s Greenwash Guide in the commercial: “It seems Mazda’s corporate communications team have almost used them as a checklist when devising their advert. In the ad a “Seussified” Mazda CX-5, that’s a “compact SUV” to you and me (10 Signs of Greenwash #5: best in class?), cruises caringly through a pre-deforested landscape of truffula trees (#3: suggestive pictures)…  So not entirely revolutionary then, and as for being the only car that is in receipt of the “truffula tree seal of approval – ‘We care an awful lot!'”, don’t get me started (#8: imaginary friends).”

I’d add that it’s also guilty of:

#6 “Greening a dangerous product doesn’t make it safe”: An SUV runs on gasoline that contributes to CO2 emissions.

#7 “Gobbledygook”: “Skyactiv technology” is said three times but not explained.

The Atlantic partially identified the issue with this new “crossover SUV” model.

If Americans are ditching their Cherokees for leaner, greener models, then the CX-5 and its automotive cousins represent an improvement over the old status quo. But if auto buyers are actually choosing crossovers over smaller cars, that’s a different story entirely. By offering them slightly improved gas mileage on a fundamentally less efficient design, car companies would be helping consumers indulge in their worst impulses. Yes, you can have a big car without feeling too much pain at the pump or feeling guilty about global warming. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too. 

Small, gas burning cars cost thousands of dollar less than hybrids like the Toyota Prius but can still do 40 mpg on the highway, making them broadly appealing for cost conscious drivers. Meanwhile, despite the fanfare around electric vehicles such as the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, some automakers are ditching hybrid models to focus on better gas engine technology.”

Uh oh.  The writer also recognized the “conundrum for environmentalists” as the CX-5 is a “step up” from the Cadillac Escalade but not quite as ‘eco-friendly’ as a Chevy Volt.

And while [SUV's like the CX-5] might help us pump a little less gas now, they might help keep us dependent on dirty fuel in the future… Mazda’s car isn’t completely without its green merits. But using everyone’s favorite orange eco-warrior to advertise something that falls in the mushy middle of environmentally friendly vehicles is a bit, well, disrespectful.”

Last night Stephen Colbert commented on the ad and the idea of the Lorax “selling out”.  He joked that he didn’t like the book, calling it, “[An] environmental screed about a little orange tree hugger, trying to kill the good Thneed-producing jobs that the Once-ler was creating with nothing more than unwanted Truffula tree tufts.”  This echoes Fox News’ Lou Dobbs recent criticism of the movie, saying it “pits the makers against the takers” and sells an anti-industrial agenda.” The movie’s 70 corporate tie-ins are something Colbert commends, though.  “Everybody knows: The more tie-ins, the more good something is,” concluding with a rhyming tribute to Dr. Seuss:

“This cashtacula sellout is not quite enough.

I’m demanding more branding of Loraxian stuff.

With what you can buy, boy, the sky is the limit.

A Filet o Fish meal with real Humming-Fish in it.

Filmmakers get cracking the market is lacking

A splendiferous Lorax-themed drill made for fracking.

Or the fine certain something that all people need.

Indeed you’ll succeed if you sold us a thneed.

They’re easy to make if you only take,

All the Truffula tufts off the trees by the lake.

They’re comfy and thick as the thick ironies

Of the Lorax and Seuss hawking big SUVs.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 29, 2012 2:54 pm

    Excellent analysis, Kevin. This turn of events is truly appalling.

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