Nova Scotia·Q&A

How Nova Scotia birders changed a major car commercial

A car commercial for Kia that recently ran afoul of Nova Scotia birders has been changed to reflect people's concerns.

Group told Kia commercial featuring snowy owls promoted dangerous behaviour

Kia has changed its latest commercial to address concerns from Nova Scotia birders worried about potential impacts on snowy owls, like the one seen in this photo. (Submitted by Sarah Meeko)

A car commercial for Kia that recently ran afoul of Nova Scotia birders has been changed to reflect people's concerns.

The recent ad showed a Kia Sorento in pursuit of a computer-generated snowy owl. Alarmed by the imagery, the Nova Scotia Bird Society asked Kia to change it. 

Portia Clark, host of CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia, spoke with group president Diane LeBlanc on Friday about why they reached out to Kia Canada, and the response they got.

Listen to the full interview here:

This discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you describe the original ad for us? 

The original ad showed a couple of very keen birders who come across a couple of snowy owls and decide that they're going to give chase to the owls as they fly away. It shows them in a lovely Kia Sorento driving with the bird really close to the car, and genuinely giving chase to the bird. 

Now this is a computer-generated owl?

The owl itself is a product of wildlife photography, but the ad itself is put together with computer generation. So it wasn't actually true that this bird was that close to the car, but it did look like it in the ad.

And what concerns you about that?

What concerns us is that people would give chase to a snowy owl. We don't want owls or other birds to have to expend energy to get away from humans, because that energy is better used when they need to hunt and rest. We need to take into consideration the bird's needs, as well as what might be a cool ad. 

So you were concerned people would see the ad and give people the idea to get this kind of a photo, or capture this on video themselves?

That's true, yes. And we do know that snowy owls are a really sweet target for photographers. They are typically in open fields, so they're easy to find, they're on the ground. And they're majestic, beautiful creatures. They have startling yellow eyes, and with their white feathers, they're quite astounding to look at. 

If humans get too close to snowy owls, the birds can become stressed or have their food impacted. (Joel Bissell/Muskegon Chronicle via AP)

We know that it's a prize to have a picture of a snowy owl. But we also know that getting close to snowy owls, even if they're resting, can put them in danger of not being able to hunt and also stresses them. Any kind of human contact is alarming for an owl. 

And how does getting close to them endanger their food supply?

In two ways, really. When you are in a field where there's a snowy owl, it's likely that their food — the mice and rodents and rabbits — also know that you're there. They can smell you, they can hear you, and so they may stop moving and take cover. That means it's more difficult for the snowy owl to capture them. 

But also, the snowy owl itself sees you. They have very good eyesight, they can see from a kilometre away. And so if they see you, they will get stressed, and it might cause them to stay still or flee from their hunting ground. 

And you contacted Kia about this. Did they know any of this when you said, 'I don't think this is a great ad, can you do something about it?'

Well Barb McLaughlin, the director of the Nova Scotia Bird Society, wrote to Kia, as did many other Facebook followers of our society page. And we contacted Kia to say we don't think this is a good ad for these reasons. Kia really responded well, they got back to us within a few days, and they adjusted the ad immediately. They removed the parts of the ad that we felt were objectionable. 

OK, so what does the ad look like now? 

Now it's these birders stopping and seeing that there is a snowy owl, and then driving away without chasing any owl. Then they find two on a branch in another location, which is just incidental contact with the owl. That's likely to happen, it's really good luck when that happens. So that's kind of a good news story. 

And that's when you want to have your camera, maybe a long-range lens to get that beautiful photograph without any chasing.

Yes, a lot of people will stay in their car actually because the car serves as a bit of camouflage. So you can get your lenses out, and stay close without disturbing the owl. And when I say close, we're still talking about a distance that requires telephoto lenses so we don't disturb the birds. 

In a statement to CBC News, Kia Canada said the company was grateful to the Nova Scotia Bird Society for sharing insightful information about the snowy owl and providing them with new perspective.

"We now understand how specific scenes featuring a computer-generated image of the owl could be misconstrued. As such, Kia Canada worked quickly to update our ad and are pleased to receive an email from the Nova Scotia Bird Society in support of the changes we made. It was never our intent to infer or encourage the pursuit of wildlife," they said.

With files from Samantha Schwientek and CBC's Information Morning

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