Multiple adverts for oil giant Shell have been banned in the UK due to “misleading” content, the country’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled.
According to the independent body, the adverts imply that a greater proportion of low-carbon energy products make up Shell’s production than in practice.
According to the ASA, the adverts “omitted significant information about the overall environmental impact of Shell’s business activities in 2022”. The ban applies to one TV advert, a poster and a video posted on Shell’s YouTube channel.
Shell told Offshore Technology that it “strongly disagrees with the ASA’s decision”, stating that customers are already aware of its hydrocarbon production, but they are “not aware of the alternatives available to them”.
The poster, shown in the southern city of Bristol, included the statistic that 78,000 homes in the south-west of England use renewable electricity, along with the statement: “Bristol is ready for clean energy”. According to the ASA, the text was misleading as it implied that all of Shell’s operations were providing cleaner energy.
The slogan “the UK is ready for cleaner energy” was also featured in the TV advert and the YouTube video.
“We also considered that the emphasis the adverts placed on [the word] “ready”, as well as the fact that the only timeframe mentioned by the ads was short-term, implied that lower-carbon energy products, like those shown in the ads, already comprised a significant proportion of the energy products Shell invested in and sold in the UK, or were likely to do so in the near future,” the ASA said.
“Misleading by omission”
Shell states that: “It would be disproportionate and unworkable for regulators to require businesses with diverse product portfolios to ensure that adverts […] always provided a representative overview of the advertiser’s business as a whole”.
Environmental law charity ClientEarth described the ruling as “an important milestone in the regulation of the advertising of companies from high-carbon industries”.
“Importantly, this ruling cements the concept of ‘misleading by omission’, in that companies with carbon intensive businesses […] can face bans for focusing their adverts on other, less polluting, parts of the businesses,” ClientEarth lawyer Sophie Marjanac told Offshore Technology.
“While we welcome this ruling from the ASA, more needs to be done to ensure truth in advertising and that high-carbon businesses are not delaying the net-zero transition,” she added.
The decision from the ASA comes as the body targets a number of energy companies accused of “greenwashing” in their advertisements. Repsol and Petronas have also been accused of omitting information about their fossil fuel products in their advertisements to give the impression that they are taking overwhelming environmental action.