Over the years, I’ve prepared myself for the inevitable. It happens almost every year around this time, and it’s a bad look for automakers who, despite certainly knowing better, continue to glorify a driving practice that should make every fly fisher cringe.
Be prepared for the next round of kitschy television advertisements that show just how capable new SUVs are of trashing perfectly good trout water. The latest culprit? Kia America and its ad for its EV9 GT-Line e-AWD crossover.
It’s one thing to show the gratuitous creek crossing. It’s quite another to depict a vehicle driving right down the middle of a creek.
A little dramatic? Maybe. But this has been going on for years. Conservation groups have derided automakers for more than half a decade for showing Jeeps and Fords just cruising through what appears to be otherwise intact trout water. The results? Some modest mea culpas, and a new policy from Ford that claimed it wouldn’t show its vehicles in streams unless the footage showed the road both entering and leaving the water.
Now, of course, the vehicle makers have been quick to point out that the driving is actually done by professionals on closed courses (the really fine print in the Kia commercial indirectly suggests drivers use extreme caution while driving up to the doors in a creek), and that they aren’t really driving through a trout stream. It’s just a carefully crafted stretch of water made to look like a creek, we’re told.
That, of course, assumes the average consumer can tell the difference in the 2.5 second clip that shows just how aggressive a human can be driving an SUV in a stream. For every Ford that catches a glimpse of light, there’s a Kia ready to move over to the Dark Side in a national ad campaign.
And, despite being scolded years ago by Trout Unlimited for showing a vehicle driving right up what looks to be a trout stream, Jeep still can’t market its products without showing them splashing through water and the thrill that passengers conceivably get when the stream splashes back.
Yes, I get it. A vehicle designed to handle multiple terrain types requires a marketing campaign that demonstrates the vehicle’s capability. Sand, gravel, snow and ice, wet pavement and mud all make appearances in any gratuitous commercial for a 4x4 vehicle — the invincibility is appealing.
Even with the obvious disclaimers that illustrate the companies’ pure intent — closed courses, manufactured streams, expert drivers, etc. — the marketing efforts encourage the kind of behavior that every responsible angler abhors. We know this because we’ve seen it.
Just a couple of months ago, in Colorado, the driver of a Ford F-150 steered the truck through a restored riverside riparian zone and then into the Yampa River itself, where it got predictably struck. The truck was reported in the river by a hunter — nobody was around the vehicle, and the driver wasn’t anywhere near the scene. But, by the time authorities arrived to assess the damage, the truck was gone.
The driver was lucky. December in northwest Colorado can be brutal, and just a week or two after the incident, temperatures in the area dipped well below zero.
Fortunately, the Bureau of Land Management assessed the damage and found it minimal. One truck that goes into and out of the river a single time probably isn’t a big deal. But, for some reason, the driver of the truck felt compelled to test the mettle of his new Ford.
And no, the driver hasn’t been identified yet.
No, it’s not just automakers. Off-road vehicle manufacturers are equally egregious in their efforts to market their “go anywhere” machines. The glorification of the “mudding” culture is absolutely ridiculous, but the behavior transcends stinky Southern mud bogs when somebody in a side-by-side decides to leave the trail in the Rockies or the Appalachians and just drive right up the middle of a trout stream.
“Creek riding” is a thing, even though it’s very likely illegal in most states. But then again, so is “creek driving” like that depicted in the new Kia commercial and by other automakers schlepping 4x4 rigs in years past.
We can deride the automakers all we want for their advertising campaigns that show the capabilities of their products by demonstrating irresponsible behavior. So far, the effort to inject a little responsibility into their marketing campaigns has been flaccid and ineffective. We’re playing Whack-a-Mole with billion-dollar companies that possess bottomless marketing budgets.
So the buck has to stop with us, right? I’m one of millions of fly fishers who own a vehicle perfectly capable of driving right up the middle of a trout stream. But, like the vast majority of my fellow 4x4-owning brethren, I wouldn’t even think to do it.
Oh, but there are a few who will. Just because they can. And one thing I’ve learned over a career spent largely in the conservation sector: people are often no smarter than lemmings. Where one goes, others will follow.
And with the inspiration provided at a regular clip by advertising agencies that can’t think of a better way to showcase the attributes of a new SUV than to drive it right up a stream, the lemmings don’t have to use their imagination that much.
The solution? Drive responsibly. Stay out of the creek. Don’t be a lemming.