The Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) has ordered Toyota South Africa Motors to withdraw a television advertisement for the new Hilux GR-Sport, ruling it “condones illegal behaviour” and is “offensive to a sector of the population”.

The commercial, which was created by agency FCB Joburg but has since been pulled from Toyota SA’s YouTube page, showed the special-edition double-cab bakkie being thrashed on the dunes, sending sand flying into the air.

The advert, which opened with a shot of three meerkats, ended with the Hilux’s driver alighting. He makes eye contact with the meerkats and nods, and they reciprocate.

Complaint David Lazarus argued the commercial “promotes and encourages” irresponsible and "illegal driving” on sand dunes, “ignoring the fact that the portrayed action is forbidden by South Africa's environmental laws and regulations relating to coastal areas”.

Louise McIntosh, the second complainant, submitted Toyota was “promoting off-road driving that is harmful to nature as the portrayed sand dunes are a natural habitat for small insects and animals”.

The local arm of the Japanese automaker responded that the advert was not shot in an “environmentally sensitive area” but in an industrial location (it was, in fact, filmed at the Philippi Sand Mine adjacent to Mitchells Plain near Cape Town).

“The intention was not to depict or condone ecologically irresponsible driving regardless of where the commercial was shot. The main vehicle in the commercial is mostly driving on existing paths and in the few instances where it is travelling over untracked sand, it does do not drive over any flora or fauna, just on sand. The vehicle was also not used to blast up, down or through sand dunes,” Toyota SA submitted.

ARB, though, ruled the advert breached Clause 3.3 of Section II, which states: “Advertisements should not contain anything which might lead or lend support to criminal or illegal activities, nor should they appear to condone such activities”.

“Given that the illegal behaviour condoned by the advertisement relates to an issue about which many people feel strongly – the preservation of South African beaches from off-road drivers and the protection of the environment – the depiction of this activity is also offensive to a sector of the population,” ARB added in its ruling.

It ordered Toyota SA to “withdraw the commercial in its current format”.

The Hilux GR-Sport is based on the 2,8 GD-6 4x4 6AT double-cab derivative, employing the standard 2,8-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, sending 130 kW and 450 N.m to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. It is priced at R707 400 and features “uprated and tuned” suspension, including shock absorbers with a monotube design and revised damping, which work in conjunction with stiffer front springs (“without sacrificing ride comfort”, says Toyota). Just 600 units have been set aside for South Africa.