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Advertising Standards Authority takes down Shell ads over misleading claims

Advertising Standards Authority takes down Shell ads over misleading claims

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 Oil and gas company Shell has had some of its advertisements banned after The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that it held misleading claims about how clean its energy production actually is, according to a statement by ASA. 

The affected ads included a poster, television ad and a YouTube ad. The poster, which was seen in Bristol, read "Bristol is ready for cleaner energy." It then went on to say, "In the Southwest 78,000 homes use 100% renewable electricity from Shell Energy” above smaller text that 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”.

A second television ad opened with a man saying, "In the UK, 1.4 million households use 100% renewable electricity from Shell.” The ad also noted that Shell experts are working on a wind project that could power six million homes as well as that Shell aims to fit 50,000 chargers nationwide by 2025.

Finally, a YouTube video by the brand stated, “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 UK is ready for cleaner energy. 

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Adfree Cities, a network of groups in the UK who take interest with the impact of corporate advertising on people, noted the ads were misleading because it omitted "significant information" about the overall environmental impact of Shell’s business activities in 2022. It also took issue with the claim with two sentences in particular, namely that in the South West 78,000 homes use 100% renewable electricity from Shell Energy and that in the UK, 1.4 million households use 100% renewable electricity from Shell.

Shell UK responded by saying that its 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.

"They believed that the ads accurately represented those products and services and did not omit material information about their more environmentally detrimental energy products, such as petrol," wrote ASA. "Consumers would already be well-informed regarding that aspect of their operations and, in fact, would primarily associate their brand with the sale of petrol."

Recent market research conducted by an independent third-party company supported that 83% of consumers did so, 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 (EV) charging, noted the company. 

"Shell hoped to bridge that gap in consumers’ knowledge by providing clear and accurate information about their newer products. Achieving that would be an essential step towards realising the business’s overarching aim of helping customers transition towards lower-emissions energy sources," it said before adding that their findings showed that petrol sales remained the most visible part of their brand to consumers which is why they believed that consumers were very unlikely to assume that the ads’ content covered the full range of Shell’s business activities. 

"Particularly because of their finding that petrol sales remained the most visible part of their brand to consumers, they believed that consumers were very unlikely to assume that the ads’ content covered the full range of Shell’s business activities. 

They thought there was a low risk of the ads delivering the misleading impression that they were representative of the total environmental impact associated with Shell’s operations. 

It added that because the ads’ purpose was to promote low-carbon energy, they believed that any mention of high-carbon Shell products would have been counterproductive.

However, upon investigation, ASA ruled that the ads could no longer be shown in its current form. "We told Shell UK 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," it said. 

It noted that the YouTube ad was misleading because it gave the impression that low-carbon energy products made up a large proportion of Shell's energy products. This is untrue. 

"We acknowledged that Shell said they were taking steps towards net zero and promoting sustainable energy. However, according to Shell’s 2021 Sustainability Report, Shell’s operations gave rise to greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 that were estimated as equivalent to 1375 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. While that estimate did not capture Shell’s absolute emissions in 2021, given that it included deductions linked to carbon offsets and did not cover certain commercial contracts, it nonetheless represented a large contribution to greenhouse gas emissions," it noted.

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