CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE - LAND ROVER FREELANDER. Is Land Rover's 'Masai' exploitation or inspiration?

Three industry figures say why they like or loathe the latest work for Land Rover.

FRANC FALCO - design specialist, Wolff Olins

I disagreed with Caroline Marshall choosing the press ad for the Land Rover Freelander Maasai as her Pick of the Week (Campaign, 25 July).

While I agree that the idea and art direction are very clever, I also found the ad both inappropriate and sad.

Inappropriate, because to associate a "school run" SUV with the demands of the Masai Mara driving environment is simply ridiculous, the car wouldn't last ten minutes. And I know from first-hand experience.

And while I'm all in favour of aspirational car advertising, shots of cars driving around salt flats, empty roads, wind in the hair and a pretty girl in the passenger seat are just not credible. The analogy doesn't work.

Sad, because the Masai is a proud and traditional race. They would have considered having their pictures taken the equivalent of removing their soul. Moreover, they walk everywhere so using the Masai to advertise an automobile is really quite pointless.

So congratulations to Land Rover. It appears that it has succeeded in corrupting one of the planet's oldest surviving peoples.

What next, maybe BMW will take some Brazilian Rainforest pygmies and group them in the shape of a Mini?

MARK BARNARD - managing partner, RKCR/Y&R

The Land Rover Maasai is a limited edition model. It costs £14,995. It comes in an eye-catching shade of red. And that's pretty much it. As with the earlier Serengeti and Kalahari vehicles - the "elephants" and "meerkats" posters - it didn't take a tissue meeting and reams of flipchart to uncover the source of our inspiration. We soon discovered that the Masai dress almost exclusively in a similar red colour. So we hit on the idea of embodying the car - quite literally - in the Masai themselves. Simple.

It would be easy to jump to patronising, outdated conclusions about this powerful tribe. Best known as warriors and herders, these proud people also possess a keen entrepreneurial streak. Our models were artists from a local cultural centre, who relished the chance to further the awareness and appreciation of their people and their land. The shoot turned into something of a family affair, with relatives and friends tagging along for the experience of being on a stills shoot. Coercing spear-carrying warriors to stand in front of a camera for two days seemed foolhardy.

Instead, each model was paid for their involvement; the headman spent his location fee buying new cattle.

We're delighted with the result and rather amused by all the talk of semiotics and the like. It's just a nice, simple idea - the kind that works best on posters (and pretty much everywhere else, for that matter).

Obviously, the tribespeople posed in order to emulate Freelander's distinctive silhouette.

Exploitative? Hardly. This was a professional business transaction. Look closely, and as well as the shape of the Freelander, you can discern the pride in the faces of the Masai people.

LAURENCE GREEN - partner, Fallon

Blame the windtunnel. Car advertisers are still in thrall to the mentality that gripped their colleagues in design, the ethic that gave us a generation of lookalike saloons. A nip here, a tuck there, distinctive visions of what a car (and car brand) might be, sandpapered into oblivion.

Cherish Land Rover, one of the few to have forged a distinctive marketing path, demonstrating along the way an understanding both of its audience and its heritage as a rugged rural workhorse. All executed with a lightness of touch that nods to the fact that hippos will still most likely be encountered at the zoo.

The Masai poster is more of the same: bold and rewarding branded communication in a sea of car poster sameness. (Why, there's even a call to action. It's dealer-friendly too.) M-class mum repositioned at the cosy school-run end of the suburban warrior spectrum. Job done.

Except, that is, for the sudden squeal of the politically correct. The image is exploitative, the brand allegedly sullied. Frankly, I'm not so sure about this. A sample of one, admittedly, but a man who can normally do "holier than thou" as well as anybody.

I've read No Logo. I understand that good brand behaviour is an increasingly critical component of business success. But I object to the messenger getting shot again, advertising a lazy target. I don't detect malice in the execution so unless I'm missing something (Were the Masai coerced into appearing? Was a toxic dump dug hastily while backs were turned?) this is one bandwagon I won't be boarding.

As the marketing industry begins to chart its way through the ethical minefield, we're going to have to pick the right battles. Otherwise we're doomed to a course of introspection and risk-aversion, never our best qualities.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to take my advertising with edge rather than without, thanks very much.

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