Nissan went too far with a TV commercial that depicts its Frontier pickup truck powering up a sandy hill to save a struggling dune buggy, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
In an announcement Thursday, the commission said Nissan had agreed to settle deceptive advertising charges over the 30-second ad.
In it, a little black dune buggy can be seen stuck in sand on a steep hill. Suddenly, a red Frontier speeds to the rescue of the dune buggy and pushes it up and over the hill, to the cheers of amazed onlookers.
The "Hill Climb" ad was shot in a realistic-looking YouTube style.
And no, the Frontier pickup can't really do that. In fact, the FTC complaint says both the truck and the buggy were dragged to the top of the hill by cables.
In a statement, Nissan said it takes its commitment to truthful advertising seriously. "The company has been and remains committed to complying with the law," said spokesman Travis Parman.
Also named in the complaint is advertising agency TBWA Worldwide Inc. The FTC says both Nissan and TBWA are barred from making deceptive demonstrations in future ads.
"Special effects in ads can be entertaining, but advertisers can't use them to misrepresent what a product can do," said Jessica Rich, head of the FTC's consumer protection bureau.
The ad did have a disclaimer that briefly flashed on the screen at the beginning -- saying it was a "fictionalization" and that viewers should "not attempt." But that didn't work for the commission.
"The disclosure that was on the screen was neither clear nor conspicuous," said Matthew Gold, an FTC attorney in San Francisco. "Even if what was being portrayed was understood to be fictional, consumers could still believe that what was shown was an actual stunt instead of something achieved through special effects."
The proposed settlement does not prohibit the use of special effects, the commission said, as long as they don't misrepresent the qualities or features of the pickup truck.