Shell cracks as ASA sinks three ads for greenwashing

shellOil and gas giant Shell has hit the roof and claimed the ad watchdog could slow the take-up of renewable energy after becoming the latest brand to be engulfed in the crackdown on greenwashing with not one, not two but three ads banned for misleading consumers.

The three ads – a TV spot, an outdoor execution and a YouTube video – were aired last year and devised by the brand’s global agency, Wunderman Thompson.

The TV ad opened with a man stating: “In the UK, 1.4 million households use 100% renewable electricity from Shell” as he helped a young child to cycle down the street. The scene that followed depicted two offshore engineers working on-site at a beach. The one facing the camera stated “Shell experts are working on a wind project that could power six million homes”, as animated design plans for wind turbines popped up on the horizon.

The ad then depicted an electric car driving into a rural town before its driver stated: “Nearly one in five new cars now plug in,” as he plugged his car into a charging point. A woman out walking her dog then stated: “These chargers are popping up on our streets,” before a man fitting an EV charging point added: “Shell aims to fit 50,000 chargers nationwide by 2025.”

An employee at a Shell petrol and electric vehicle charging station then stated: “And with more electric car charge points coming to Shell forecourts near you, the UK is ready for Cleaner energy.”

Throughout the ad, large individual letters appeared in the background of successive scenes to spell the word “READY”. The video ended with large on-screen text “The UK is READY for Cleaner Energy” followed by the Shell logo and the hashtag “#PoweringProgress”.

The poster, seen in Bristol, featured large text that stated, “BRISTOL is READY for Cleaner Energy” superimposed over a cityscape shot of the city.

But green organisation Adfree Cities, which believed that Shell’s business activities included substantial, ongoing and expanding fossil fuel production, rifled off a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority.

The group argued that the ads were misleading, because they omitted significant information about the overall environmental impact of Shell’s business activities and that the claims over its “100% renewable electricity” could not be substantiated.

In response to the ASA investigation, Shell insisted the ads were intended to raise awareness of the lower emissions energy products and services it is investing more money in. The company claimed people who saw the ads would already be well-informed of its operations and would mainly associate the brand with petrol sales.

However, the ASA was not impressed with this argument, banning all three ads after ruling they were likely to mislead consumers because they “misrepresented the contribution that lower-carbon initiatives played, or would play in the near future” compared with the rest of the company’s operations.

The TV and YouTube ads, for instance, incorrectly gave the impression that low-carbon energy products made up a significant proportion of Shell’s energy products, when in fact they did not, the watchdog said.

Meanwhile, the poster gave the wrong impression that, overall, Shell provided predominantly clean energy across its whole business.

The ASA added: “We also considered that the emphasis the ads placed on ‘Ready’, 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.”

Following the ruling, a spokesperson for Shell claimed the ASA’s decision could hit the UK’s drive towards renewable energy by insisting: “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.”

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