OK, let’s get this out of the way first. Mark Gorton, the Streets blogger who started the campaign to get Mazda and Universal to pull their Lorax movie tie-in ad that shills for one of the company’s SUVs, actually owns an SUV himself. Gorton lives in New York City and doesn’t drive much, but he has four kids under 10, and he says that his huge, gas-guzzling Chevy Suburban is the only vehicle out there that can accommodate all their car seats.

 

That little factoid makes it clear how hard it is to be a purist these days. I rail against SUVs all the time, and yet, and yet — I test drive them sometimes. And, under the harsh scrutiny of the "Daily Show" cameras, I once admitted (after launching a diatribe matching Gorton’s) that I’d driven to the taping in, well, an SUV (and I think it was a Mazda, too!). My golden moment is preserved here. At least it was funny:

 

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But Gorton makes a lot of sense to me when he says that his 9-year-old daughter was “confused” by the image of an SUV being “certified truffula-tree friendly.” Why? Because Mazda “cares an awful lot.” “Kids don’t have the ability to discern this level of trickery,” Gorton told me. “She knows I hate cars and love the Lorax, so she didn’t know what to think.” Here's the long-form version. And here's the ad itself:

 

 

The campaign (and a New York Times review that called the film “a noisy, useless piece of junk”) isn’t hurting The Lorax any — it did boffo box office over the weekend, taking in $70.7 million (including one ticket sold to my daughter, who seemed to like it).

 

You can make a case for the Mazda CX-5 in the ad (right). With a car rather than truck chassis and the same Skyactiv technology as my Mazda3 test car, it gets 35 mpg on the highway (but only 26 in town). My Mazda3 does slightly better (27/39 mpg) but the main difference between the vehicles is visual. Americans who respond to SUV “styling cues” will buy it, ugly as it is. I would argue that appearance matters in this case, because commercials communicate only the basics to kids — that an SUV is Lorax-approved and truffula-tree-friendly.

 

It’s not just this one ad. There are many different promotions, including a larger campaign co-sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency with 69 partners (of course Mazda, but also Whole Foods, Seventh Generation, Stonyfield Farms, HP, Comcast and Doubletree by Hilton) to “help engage the youth of America in environmental protection.”

 

It would be nice if the Lorax cast were put to work on reducing, reusing and recycling, but only the first part seems to be getting through. The EPA’s co-branded message is to buy an Energy Star-certified appliance, which might give kids the idea that they can consume their way to combating global warming.

 

And the SUVs are along for the ride as part of the National Education Association’s “Read Across America Tour — Driven by Mazda.” Students are lead outside after local elementary school presentations (that include Mazda checks for the library) and shown a Truffula Tree-decorated CX-5. Mazda donates $25 to NEA for every dealership test drive, which means that parents get roped in. I'm baffled by an NEA reading sheet "resource" that appears to be nothing more than a Lorax ad ("from the creators of Despicable Me"). The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood called the whole thing “among the most outrageous examples of any school advertisement program I’ve ever heard.”

 

C’mon, guys, it gets worse than that. I vividly remember the energy curriculum, sponsored by industry, that promoted the many benefits of kid-friendly coal. Rachel Carson and the Lorax probably wouldn’t drive a CX-5, but they’d be much less likely to encourage mountaintop removal mining — which strips and burns all the trees — in their neighborhood.

 

I’ll give Mark Gorton the last word: “Automobiles kill cities and the human living environment. They’ve made our streets into dangerous, deadly paces for children. If cars ran on water they’d still be enormously environmentally destructive.” Agreed, Mark. And the Lorax should speak for the trees and that’s about it.

 

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