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Remember That Time Mazda Used “The Lorax” to Promote Its New SUV?

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Mazda's decision to partner with Illumination's 2012 animated film "The Lorax" quickly became a PR nightmare

I am the Lorax. I speak for the SUVs.
Photo: Mazda/Illumination Entertainment

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known by his alias of Dr. Seuss, published more than 60 books during his career. However, Seuss’ personal favorite story was The Lorax, an environmental fable about a small, orange creature who “speaks for the trees.” The eponymous Lorax attempts to persuade the Once-Ler, an entrepreneur who creates “Thneed” products using the nearby Truffula Trees, from clearing the forest and disrupting the local environment.

In the years following Geisel’s passing, many movie studios have attempted to bring his stories to life on the big screen, the most recent of which to do so being Illumination Entertainment. Back in 2012, Illumination set out to adapt The Lorax as a movie, already regarded as something of a controversial decision.

In order to promote the movie, Illumination Entertainment launched a series of marketing campaigns which would feature the Lorax and other characters in the film. One of the companies that Illumination partnered with was Mazda.

Unfortunately for both Mazda and Illumination, the ensuing controversy was one they were unprepared for.

Even More Seuss Stories: The Various Vehicular Contraptions of the Cat in the Hat

Mazda’s advertisements featuring the Lorax focused on the Mazda CX-5 and the company’s efficient SKYACTIV technology. The new engine helped CX-5 achieve 26 mpg in the city and up to 33 mpg on the highway, rather efficient for a vehicle in its class.

In fact, Mazda found the fuel-efficient ratings so impressive that they decided the Mazda CX-5 would certainly be approved by the Lorax. Thus, during the commercial in question, the CX-5 is awarded the “Truffula Tree Seal of Approval” while it traverses a valley full of Truffula trees.

You can watch the ad in question down below:

Needless to say, audience members were not receptive to the advertising campaign. Media outlets like The Atlantic and celebrities like Stephen Colbert decried the ad’s use of the environmental activist Lorax to promote a gas-powered SUV. On YouTube, the television spot received more than 900 dislikes, compared to its 100 likes.

Mazda’s reaction to the negative feedback certainly didn’t help matters. Here’s what Don Romano, Mazda’s chief marketing officer at the time, had to say:

“If people think that everything’s going to change overnight, that’s just naive. It’s not going to happen that way. It’s going to happen through incremental changes and constant improvement. I think Dr. Seuss would be quite proud of that progress and the fact that we’re taking that step.”

Efficient Mazda Models: Mazda Says Next-Generation SKYACTIV Engines Will Undercut EV Emissions

To be fair, Mazda did follow up with several charitable acts, such as donating money to public schools. However, by that point, the damage had already been done. Today, Mazda’s “Lorax-approved” CX-5 commercial is regarded by many advertising experts to be one of the worst movie tie-in campaigns in recent history.

As for The Lorax film itself, reviews were quite mixed, with a 54 percent approval rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Nevertheless, the movie was a financial hit, earning $348.8 million on a $70 million budget.

Ironically enough, during one of The Lorax’s song sequences, the Lorax is tricked into promoting a product, which is dubbed “Lorax-approved.” Whether anybody at Illumination or Mazda recognized the irony of the situation is unclear.

News Source: NPR