Shell forced to axe misleading ‘carbon neutral’ Go+ ad

Shell_Go_plusA radio ad campaign promoting the Shell Go+ loyalty club has been pulled off air following a raft of complaints that it misleadingly implied motorists could drive “drive carbon-neutral” by filling up through the scheme.

The ad, which first ran in January, featured the voice of a young girl who stated, “I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with ‘b’”. A woman, intended as the girl’s mother, responded by stating “bike”. The young girl then stated, “Nope. Banana tree”.

The mother responded “Of course, we must have missed it”. A further voice stated: “Although you might not be able to see it, your small actions can have a real impact with Shell. Drive carbon-neutral by filling up and using Shell Go+ today. Make the change. Drive carbon-neutral.”

However, 17 people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, challenging whether the claim “drive carbon-neutral” was misleading because it implied that Go+ was a fuel rather than a loyalty scheme.

In a detailed defence, Shell UK said the “drive carbon-neutral” programme was introduced into the loyalty scheme in October 2019, adding that the volume of fuel purchased by a customer, in litres, was recorded for the purposes of carbon offsetting and providing customers with their own personalised carbon statement.

Shell said that in 2018 it commissioned qualitative research to understand better consumers’ comprehension of the concept of “carbon offsetting”, and established that it was a less familiar term than “carbon neutrality”. The research indicated that consumers understood carbon neutrality to mean taking out as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they were putting in, so the company decided that was the most suitable term to use.

Shell said it did not believe that consumers could be confused into thinking that Shell Go+ was a new carbon-neutral fuel, and believed that the ad made a clear distinction between the fuel and the loyalty scheme by stating “drive carbon neutral by filling up and using Shell Go+ today”, thereby avoiding any confusion.

The ad also directed consumers to Shell’s website for more details, which it said was appropriate to do given the complex background to the principles of carbon offsetting.

However, the ASA was not impressed. In its ruling, the watchdog said there was nothing in the ad to indicate to listeners that what was being advertised was a loyalty programme. It therefore considered that listeners were likely to infer that Shell Go+ was a fuel for which Shell would offset the carbon emissions related to that fuel purchase, so that the customer could “drive carbon-neutral”.

Because that was not the case, the ASA concluded the ad was misleading and ruled it should not run again in its current form.

In response, Shell UK said: “’When building the communications campaign to launch our ‘drive carbon neutral’ offer we did a huge amount of due diligence. It is unfortunate that the ASA felt that the wording of one of our radio ads wasn’t clear enough and could potentially be interpreted by customers as suggesting that Shell Go+ is a fuel rather than a rewards programme that they needed to join to participate.

“We will make clearer in future advertisements that Shell Go+ is our rewards scheme. Around one in five fuel purchases are by customers who are part of this scheme which means they are now driving carbon neutral.”

Wunderman and Accenture Interactive both work on the Shell Go+ account; it is not known which agency was responsible for the ad.

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