Nissan Motor Co. and its U.S. advertising agency agreed Thursday to settle a complaint by the Federal Trade Commission over deceptive advertising charges.
The deal stems from a 30-second ad Nissan ran in 2011 for its midsize Frontier pickup truck. In the spot, created by TBWA Worldwide, the Frontier is seen driving up a steep dune to push a buggy stuck in the sand.
According to the FTC complaint, the actual truck couldn’t pull off such a feat — and cables were used for both vehicles, and the hill was modified to look significantly steeper than it really was — so the ad was found to violate the FTC Act.
“Special effects in ads can be entertaining, but advertisers can’t use them to misrepresent what a product can do,” Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “This ad made the Nissan Frontier appear capable of doing something it can’t do.”
The last time the FTC and an automaker settled such a case was with Volvo in 1992, said Matthew Gold, a staff attorney in the FTC’s western region. That case involved an ad showing a monster truck crushing a series of vehicles but unable to damage a Volvo station wagon.
Nissan and TBWA won’t face any immediate punishment under the settlement. But both could face could face civil penalties of as much as $16,000 a day if either produces a similarly deceptive advertisement in the next 20 years, according to Gold.
Under the settlement, the companies will also need to maintain a record of any form of advertising for all Nissan trucks for five years after they air so the FTC can monitor them.
Nissan said it has no plans to end its relationship with TBWA, which also handles advertising for Nissan’s luxury brand, Infiniti. The New York agency has a roster of A-list clients, including Apple, Pepsi, Gatorade and Adidas.
“Nissan takes its commitment to fair and truthful advertising seriously,” the automaker said in a statement. “The company has been and remains committed to complying with the law.”