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ASA investigates into Shell adverts

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Key facts:

The ASA investigated Shell UK Ltd for misleading advertising in respect of a poster, a TV ad and an YouTube advert.

The adverts centred around Cleaner Energy: the poster contained text that read: “BRISTOL is READY for Cleaner Energy” and “In the South-West 78,000 homes use 100% renewable electricity from Shell Energy”. The TV and YouTube adverts sought to highlight that Shell Energy supplied renewable electricity to UK homes, that Shell was involved in the development of offshore windfarms, and that, in line with their aim to increase potential EV purchasers’ confidence in the availability of chargers, Shell was in the process of rapidly expanding its existing EV charging infrastructure.

Shell explained that the purpose of the adverts was to raise awareness of, and increase demand for, the range of lower emissions energy products and services it offered, the availability of which was increasing through investment. Shell believed the adverts were accurate representations without omission about their more environmentally detrimental energy products, such as petrol. Most consumers were well aware of its role in the sale of petrol. Indeed, recent market research conducted by an independent third-party company supported that 83% of consumers were aware, and also suggested that a much smaller proportion were familiar with Shell’s lower-carbon energy products and services, including renewable electricity and electric vehicle charging. Shell explained that it was hoping to bridge this knowledge gap.

Ad clearing agency Clearcast believed that the TV advert did not misrepresent the overall environmental impact of Shell’s operations by stating or implying that impact was not negative. That was because the advert made clear that it did not seek to provide a holistic view of Shell’s environmental impact. Instead, the TV advert gave an overview of environmentally motivated initiatives running in areas of Shell’s business that were specifically concerned with the generation and supply of low-carbon electricity, while inviting consumers to transition towards less environmentally detrimental energy sources. Clearcast understood the tagline “The UK is ready for cleaner energy” as referring to a society-wide appetite for less environmentally detrimental energy products, and further stated that it did not emphasise or explicitly relate to Shell’s overall impact. In addition, the claim “Nearly one in five new cars now plug in” drew focus to the important role that individual consumers’ behavioural changes would play in the fight against climate change.

On that basis, Clearcast believed the claim suggested there was a limit to what Shell could achieve without consumers’ co-operation. It supported Shell’s view that consumers’ awareness of Shell’s petrol sales would mitigate any risk of the advert misleading consumers about the overall environmental impact of Shell’s business activities.

The complaint was upheld in part.

The ASA acknowledged that many consumers would closely associate Shell with petrol sales, but also noted that consumers were seeking out companies that were making meaningful progress towards transitioning away from higher-carbon products and services.

Adverts were therefore likely to mislead consumers if they misrepresented the contribution that lower-carbon initiatives played, or would play in the near future, as part of the overall balance of a company’s activities. The ASA held that consumers would likely interpret the adverts as making broader claims about Shell as a whole providing cleaner energy, and that the overall impression was that low-carbon energy products comprised a significant proportion of the energy products Shell invested in and sold in the UK in 2022, or was likely to do so in the near future, without sufficient qualifying information.

As such, the ASA upheld that part of the claim (for the poster and YouTube advert – a breach of CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (misleading advertising) and 11.1 (environmental claims) and for the TV advert – a breach of BCAP Code rules 3.1 and 3.2 (misleading advertising) and 9.2 (environmental claims).

The ASA accepted the customer data that Shell had provided substantiated that the number of homes subscribed to its 100% renewable energy tariff in each region exceeded the claimed figure, and therefore did not consider these claims to be misleading.

Source(s):

ASA ruling

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