A paid for Google ad for BMW seen on 16 August 2023 featured the claim, “Zero Emissions Cars – Download Your Brochure Today. Visit BMW’s official online website. Find the perfect BMW electric car. Book a test drive. Explore a range of BMW electric cars …”.
The ASA challenged whether the claim "Zero Emissions Cars" misleadingly represented the vehicles’ environmental impact.
BMW (UK) Ltd said they had bid on terms such as “Zero Emission Cars” to target consumers who used such searches to find out information about battery electric vehicles (BEV). They said the term “Zero Emission Cars” was inserted into the ad due to the automatic keyword feature in Google Ads. They were not aware that facility had been activated for those search results and it was only on receiving the complaint they discovered it.
The result was that the claim appeared in a small selection of search results. Specifically, 0.02% of the impressions delivered by the BMW paid search activity.
They said they were aware that when making claims about zero emissions in relation to BEV, an ad should make clear that it is only when driving and this was otherwise reflected across their marketing communications.
They confirmed they had halted all bidding on “Zero Emissions Cars” keywords and reviewed all generic keywords they bid against. They said in future they would turn off the automatic keyword feature in Google Ads when bidding for “Zero Emissions Cars” keywords and add manual copy to ensure greater control. They would also vet future activity with generic keywords before activation.
The CAP Code required that marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. The basis of environmental claims must be clear.
The ad stated, in the headline text, “Zero Emissions Cars”. It then continued, “Find the perfect BMW electric car” and “Explore a range of BMW electric cars”. The ASA therefore understood that consumers would interpret the ad as promoting BMW’s portfolio of electric cars and that those cars would produce zero emissions in all circumstances.
We understood that when electric vehicles were driven no emissions were produced, unlike a car with a petrol or diesel engine where emissions came from the tailpipe. However, in other circumstances, such as the manufacture or charging of an electric vehicle using electricity from the national grid, emissions were generated. For that reason an ad that featured a “zero emissions” claim, that did not make explicitly clear that it was related to the reaction of the vehicle while it was being driven was likely to mislead.
Without material information to make clear to consumers what the claim was based on and clarification that it was restricted to emissions only when driving, we concluded "Zero Emissions Cars" was likely to mislead.
We welcomed BMW’s assurance that the claim would not be repeated in the future.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Qualification) and 11.1 (Environmental Claims).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told BMW (UK) Ltd to ensure that ads referring to “zero emissions”; made clear that the claim related to an electric vehicle only when it was being driven.