Energy supergiant Shell recently encountered a significant setback when its marketing strategy came under the scanner of The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The watchdog’s stringent assessment concluded that Shell’s advertisements had been endorsing misleading claims about the environmental purity of its energy production. This decision has been declared in a recent statement by the ASA, paving the way for a significant rethink in how energy companies advertise their products and services.
The deceptive advertisements under contention consisted of a poster, a television commercial, and a YouTube video. On first glance, the poster declared “Bristol is ready for cleaner energy.” However, it followed up with a somewhat obscure assertion that “In the Southwest, 78,000 homes use 100% renewable electricity from Shell Energy,”. This declaration was then reinforced by a note stating, “Shell Energy’s renewable electricity is supplied by the National Grid and certified by Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin, matching electricity bought with an equivalent amount from 100% renewable sources”.
The television commercial played into a similar narrative, opening with a claim that, “In the UK, 1.4 million households use 100% renewable electricity from Shell.” The commercial additionally cited Shell’s experts working on a wind energy project that could power up to six million homes. It also projected Shell’s intent to install 50,000 electric vehicle chargers nationwide by 2025.
The YouTube video further continued this pattern of misleading information. It purportedly provided viewers with the impression that Shell is spearheading the UK’s energy transition by providing numerous low-carbon alternatives, from electric vehicle charging to renewable electricity for homes. It boldly claimed, “The UK is ready for cleaner energy.”
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However, Adfree Cities, a UK-based network focused on the impact of corporate advertising, identified the omissions in these advertisements. The organization highlighted that these ads failed to provide “significant information” about the overall environmental impact of Shell’s business activities in 2022.
Shell UK responded by stating that its ads were intended to heighten consumer awareness about their range of low-emission energy products and services. They argued that these were accurately represented in their advertisements and did not withhold information about their more environmentally detrimental energy products.
Independent market research supported Shell’s claim that 83% of consumers primarily associated their brand with petrol sales. Shell aimed to bridge the knowledge gap about their newer products through their advertising, promoting their overarching goal of helping customers transition to lower-emission energy sources.
Yet, the ASA was unconvinced. Upon careful investigation, it determined that Shell’s ads could no longer be showcased in their current form. The regulator maintained that these ads delivered a misleading impression about the total environmental impact associated with Shell’s operations. It highlighted that the YouTube ad was particularly misleading, giving an exaggerated impression of the proportion of low-carbon energy products in Shell’s portfolio.
Although Shell was taking steps towards net zero and promoting sustainable energy, its operations in 2021 resulted in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1375 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. The ASA decision, therefore, serves as a wake-up call not only for Shell but for other corporations who might be tempted to ‘greenwash’ their environmental performance.
This report is based on information from the marketing-interactive website.