In March 2010 the ASA found itself in the unenviable position of negotiating between opposing views on the existence of climate change. The ASA received complaints that DECC’s Act on CO2 campaign was misleading because it presented climate change as a fact when many complainants believed that not to be the case.

Clause 3.2 of the CAP Code states that

“If there is a significant division of informed opinion about any claims made in a marketing communication they should not be portrayed as generally agreed.”

The ASA had to consider the extent of the differing opinion and whether it constituted a “significant division” under the Code. The ASA carefully considered the available evidence and understood that there was an expert consensus that human activity was contributing towards higher temperature trends and did not uphold the complaints. Often ideas and concepts are disputed by academics and opinion is divided; however, the ASA’s approach is that marketers must be convinced that the relevant informed opinion is not divided, and if it is, they should make that clear in their marketing communications.

Marketers should also be mindful of how they translate the conclusions of reports and research into specific marketing claims. In the DECC case, a press ad claimed that extreme weather events would be more frequent and intense, which the ASA said should have been phrased more conditionally to more reflect the research underpinning the claim.

The future’s bright, the future’s electric?

The ASA has seen a rise in the number of complaints about new electric and hybrid vehicles. Marketers have tried to convey the benefits of cars that don’t rely on petrol or diesel in terms of their CO2 emissions, but have, from time to time, fallen foul of the Code and its rules on environmental claims. When it claimed its cars had “zero emissions”, Renault wanted to let consumers know that as a business they took climate change seriously and considered the environment throughout all the stages of the manufacture and use of their vehicles. Several viewers complained about the claim “zero emission vehicles”. They thought it was misleading because the cars needed to be charged with electricity sourced from the National Grid which would result in the production of emissions. The ASA considered the complaints and agreed with the viewers that the “zero emissions” claim was an absolute claim and implied that no emissions were produced, which was not the case and the claim was ‘upheld’.

As new technology develops and the motoring sector looks to find exciting and innovative ways to reduce CO2 emissions, marketers should ensure that their claims do not exaggerate the environmental credentials of their products. As ever, the CAP Copy Advice team is on hand to guide you through the potential pitfalls of this difficult subject. They can provide free and timely bespoke guidance on any aspect of your communications from initial concepts through to finished artwork. Contact them on 020 7492 2100 or email [email protected]

Be CAP Code smart

The CAP Code states that claims such as “environmentally friendly” should be avoided unless the advertiser can provide convincing evidence that their product will cause no environmental damage. Often it is not this message marketers wish to communicate, they rather seek to promote how their product is comparatively better in environmental terms against their previous product or that of a competitor. To date, the ASA has ‘upheld’ all complaints about product advertising relating to the claim “environmentally friendly”.

Claims that are likely to convey the same meaning as “environmentally friendly” to the consumer are also likely to breach the Code. In a recent ad Finnair claimed “Be eco-smart. Choose Finnair’s brand new fleet.” The  ASA considered that the claim was analogous to an “environmentally friendly” claim that not only conveyed the impression that flying with Finnair would be better in terms of emissions than any other airline, but also implied that flying with them would cause little or no detriment to the environment.  Because Finnair did not have evidence to support that interpretation, the ASA said the claim was misleading. Similar claims such as ‘eco’ are likely to be interpreted by the ASA in the same fashion and CAP continues to advise marketers to be specific with their environmental claims to avoid losing sight of their message and getting into trouble with the ASA.

The new CAP and BCAP Codes contain a revised ‘Environmental claims’ sections which we would encourage advertisers to make themselves familiar with. The new Advertising Codes are available on our website. To learn more about how you can make environmental claims that comply with the Code and explore the new revisions to the ‘environmental claims’ section, speak to ASA and CAP representatives and sign up for CAP’s Advice: AM session on Environment claims in October.

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