Shell’s latest ad campaign banned for greenwashing and misleading claims

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published Jun 7, 2023 at 01:32 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

In a world where environmental consciousness is on the rise, thank god for that, corporations are increasingly under pressure to present themselves as eco-friendly entities. Shell, the oil and gas giant, is one such company that recently attempted to ride the green wave with a series of misleading advertisements promoting its so-called “low carbon” products. However, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) quickly put a stop to this and actually banned several of Shell’s adverts, deeming them “misleading.”

To put it simply, Shell’s marketing wizards, in their infinite wisdom, concocted a series of TV, poster and YouTube ads to convince the world that it is the knight in shining armour of environmental responsibility. With slogans like “The future is blue” and images of pristine nature, the company aimed to paint itself as the saviour of our beloved planet. It’s almost poetic, isn’t it? An oil company striving to save the environment? Nice try, Shell…

According to Sky News, the ASA ruled on 7 June 2023 that the ad campaign created the impression that “a significant proportion of Shell’s business comprised lower-carbon energy products,” when we know that not to be true. Though Shell has set goals to become a net zero carbon energy company by 2050, it’s also been expanding its gas business by a fifth.

Shell’s latest ad campaign banned for greenwashing and misleading claims

After receiving a complaint from the campaigning group Adfree Cities, the ASA investigated the claims made by the oil giant in its recent ads, and inevitably put an end to its misleading self-promotion.

In response to the ASA’s ban, Shell responded exactly how you’d imagine it would—by completely missing the point. In a company statement relayed by Sky News, the corporation claimed that its intention was simply to raise consumer awareness about Shell’s range of energy products that supposedly have a better environmental track record than fossil fuels.

The oil company went on to argue that audiences, who primarily associate Shell with petrol sales, would not assume that the ads covered its full range of business activities. Quite the creative spin, don’t you think?

Heck, it even went as far as to criticise the advertising watchdog’s decision as “shortsighted,” saying it risked slowing the UK’s desire to move to renewable energy.

Shell emphasised that it allocated a significant portion of its capital expenditure in 2022, specifically 17 per cent (£3.5 billion) of £20 billion, towards low-carbon energy solutions. These solutions included renewable wind and solar power, electric vehicle charging, biofuels, carbon credits, and hydrogen filling stations. The company has seemingly tried to make it a priority to showcase its efforts in diversifying their energy portfolio. The question is, is it all for show?

Well, long story short, yes. This expenditure represents only a fraction of Shell’s overall investment. The majority of its capital still goes towards traditional fossil fuel operations. It’s akin to a drop in the ocean—a tiny drop, to be precise. One could even argue that its commitment to low-carbon solutions is more of a calculated business move rather than a genuine drive to address climate concerns.

Of course, Shell is not the first, nor will it be the last, to engage in such deceptive practices. We can no longer afford to be seduced by greenwashing advertisements and empty promises. With excessive release of greenhouse gases, deforestation, extreme weather events and loss of biodiversity, the planet is in dire need of real change, not just hollow slogans.

So, here’s a friendly reminder: next time you come across an ad from an oil and gas giant claiming to be the embodiment of sustainability, remember to take it with a grain of salt. There’s a fine line between falsehoods and reality, and in the realm of corporate greenwashing, that line is often blurred.

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