There is no shortage of criticism of Mazda and Universal’s decision to use Dr. Seuss’s character, the Lorax, to sell the CX-5, a compact crossover sport utility vehicle. In the advertisements, we learn that Mazda’s car is “certified truffula tree friendly,” has earned the coveted “truffula seal of approval,” and, if we read into the thumbs up given in the ad, is the favored transportation of the Lorax himself. Environmentalists accuse Mazda of “greenwashing,” or basically using an environment-loving character to hock machines that help destroy the environment. They argue that the usage of the Lorax is particularly offensive because the CX-5 isn’t even a hybrid vehicle. The CX-5 has the traditional internal combustible engine, which means that (while it may be a small SUV that gets decent gas mileage) it puts more pollution into the air than a hybrid. Universal has felt the heat as well. Adults and children alike have criticized the company for profiting on Dr. Seuss’s environmental message without doing anything for the environment. In fact, a group of fourth graders successfully gathered 57,000 signatures and effectively pressured Universal to add environmental information to the film’s website. Beyond the use of a well-loved Seuss character, I cannot help but wonder what makes this cross promotion effort any worse than others we see involving movement causes? Will pressuring Mazda and Universal to embrace the environmental movement make a difference in the short or long term?
I would like to say that the answer is yes. However, it is here that the skeptic gets the better of me. Buying t-shirts emblazoned with anti-corporate messages, branded reusable bags for our shopping excursions, or a ticket to see a favorite band perform under the Greenpeace logo does not help the environment or the movement more generally because they fail to challenge consumption and the practices that are bad for the environment in the first place. In other words, these actions do very little to raise consciousness about environmental challenges or call attention to all the things we do outside of our vehicles that make things worse. There is limited utility in trying to shame corporate cross promotion, particularly in a media environment where it is so commonplace. It seems to me that asking theatres to make recycle bins readily available would do more good than giving Mazda more advertising and a chance to make a one-time donation to an environmental cause.