Ben Bold
Jun 8, 2023

ASA bans three Shell ads for greenwashing

The campaign was created by WPP's Wunderman Thompson UK.

ASA bans three Shell ads for greenwashing

Three ads for fossil fuel giant Shell have been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for overstating its investment in renewable and clean energy while failing to clarify the majority of its business is based on environmentally-damaging products such as petrol.

The three ads all appeared in June last year and used imagery of electric vehicle charging points and wind turbines. 

The TV ad stated: "In the UK, 1.4 million households use 100% renewable electricity from Shell," while a man helped a young child cycle down the street, followed by a scene of a two offshore engineers working at a beach. One faced the camera and said: "Shell experts are working on a wind project that could power six million homes."

A poster in Bristol claimed "Bristol is ready for cleaner energy" superimposed over a shot of the city. The Shell logo was in the top right corner and text beneath read: "In the South West, 78,000 homes use 100% renewable electricity from Shell Energy". Smaller text stated: "Shell Energy's renewable electricity is supplied by the National Grid and certified by Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin, matching electricity bought with the equivalent amount from 100% renewable sources."

The YouTube ad made similar claims, telling viewers that the "UK is ready for cleaner energy" and claiming "From electric vehicle charging to renewable electricity for your home, Shell is giving customers more low-carbon choices and helping drive the UK's energy transition".

The single complainant was campaign group Adfree Cities, which argued the ads were misleading on the basis that Shell was expanding its fossil fuels, rather than, as the ads implied, combating fossil fuel emissions.

Two issues across the three ads were investigated by the ASA and one was upheld.

Veronica Wignall, a campaigner from Adfree Cities who led the complaint, said that the ban "marks the end of the line for fossil fuel greenwashing in the UK".

She continued: "The world's biggest polluters will not be permitted to advertise that they are 'green' while they build new pipelines, refineries and rigs – but this doesn't go far enough. Shell and other fossil fuel expanders should not be permitted to advertise at all owing to their historic and ongoing role in wrecking the planet."

Shell's defence to the investigation was lengthy and hinged on the argument that "their intent with the ads was to raise consumer awareness of, and increase demand for, the range of lower emissions energy products and services they offered, the availability of which was increasing through continued investment", according to the ASA.

However, the watchdog concluded that all three ads breached the CAP Code on the basis of misleading advertising and exaggerated environmental claims.

The ASA ruled that the three ads must not appear again, telling Shell: "to ensure that their future ads featuring environmental claims did not mislead by exaggerating or, omitting material information about, the proportion of their business activities that were comprised of lower carbon activities".

Shell has issued a statement saying it strongly disagrees with the ASA's ruling, arguing it "could slow the UK’s drive towards renewable energy".

The spokesperson continued: "People are already well aware that Shell produces the oil and gas they depend on today. When customers fill up at our petrol stations across the UK, it’s under the instantly recognisable Shell logo.

“But what many people don’t know is we’re also investing heavily in low- and zero-carbon energy, including building one of the UK’s largest public networks of EV charge points. No energy transition can be successful if people are not aware of the alternatives available to them. That is what our adverts set out to show, and that is why we’re concerned by this short-sighted decision.”

The ban comes as pressure mounts on agencies pitching for Shell’s global media account, with protesters descending on incumbent WPP’s offices.

Campaign UK

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