Summary of Council decision:

Three issues were investigation, all of which were Not upheld.

Ad description

Four ads for an electricity supplier, seen in July and August 2018.

Two of the ads appeared on the advertiser's Facebook feed and as paid-for ads on Facebook:

a. The ad featured an image of a power socket with raw minced beef coming out of it. A heading above the image stated "MAKE SURE YOUR ENERGY SUPPLY IS ANIMAL FREE". Text stated "We've begun a major new campaign to lift the lid on the energy market's dirty secret. It's a big surprise that millions of British homes are powered by electricity made from animals or their by-products. These are secret ingredients that you might want to know about. They come from factory farming - animal slurry and body parts ... If you're vegan, vegetarian or care about animal welfare, this will matter to you ... We are the world's only vegan energy company, registered with The Vegan Society for our animal-free energy. No animals are harmed in the making of our power ...".

b. The ad stated "Millions of British homes are powered by electricity made from animal by-products. Keep your energy bills clean - choose Ecotricity, we're the only energy company in Britain to register its electricity with The Vegan Society. MAKE SURE YOUR ENERGY SUPPLY IS ANIMAL FREE ...".

c. The advertiser's own website, stated "If you switch to vegan energy, you can be sure your energy bills don't support factory farming or the unethical treatment of animals. Instead, you'll get animal free, 100% green, ethical energy ...".

d. A press ad, which appeared in the Metro on 7 July 2018, featured the same imagery and claims as ad (a).


1. The majority of the complainants challenged whether the claims that the advertiser could supply vegan or "animal free" electricity in ads (a) to (d) were misleading and could be substantiated, because they understood that electricity was supplied via the National Grid and came from various energy suppliers, including those who used animal by-products.

2. Two complainants challenged whether the image in ads (a) and (d) was offensive and distressing.

3. Two complainants challenged whether the claim "No animals are harmed in the making of our power" in ads (a) and (d) was misleading and could be substantiated, because they understood that bats and birds were sometimes injured or killed by wind turbines.


1. Ecotricity Group Ltd said they ensured the power they inserted into the National Grid came from sources that did not use animal by-products in their generation of electricity. They said that was matched to what their customers used, thereby ensuring their energy was animal-free. They said they had secured registration with the Vegan Society, who had audited their supply chain and found their electricity to be vegan. They provided a copy of their certificate from the Vegan Society, as well as their supporting documentation.

They believed there was a general understanding amongst consumers of how the UK's electrical supply system worked; in particular, that electricity travelled through the National Grid and that individual electrons could not be directed to specific locations.

They explained that the renewable energy sector was largely underpinned by the Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGO) certification system. REGOs allowed renewable energy suppliers, such as their own company, to reassure their customers that the power they purchased came from renewable sources despite the fact that, due to the National Grid system, the electrons actually delivered to their households and businesses were not necessarily generated by renewable sources. They believed vegan electricity should not be treated any differently to renewable power in that respect.

2. Ecotricity did not believe the image was likely to cause offence or distress. They said the fact that an image may, by its composition or by the juxtaposition of its elements, be striking and draw attention did not mean that the image caused, or was likely to cause, serious or widespread offence.

They pointed out that consumers were used to seeing images of either mince or cuts of meat in advertising and other sources, such as social media. They believed that what made the image in their ads striking was that it was coming from an unexpected source – an electric socket.

3. Ecotricity said the electricity they generated did not come from animal sources, and therefore, unlike some other suppliers, animals were not harmed in the process of generating or transmitting their electricity. The said the fact that there might be incidental and occasional animal casualties across their business did not make the claim misleading. They believed it was impossible for any business to ensure that no animals or wildlife were incidentally harmed during their processes.

They said they closely monitored their wind farms for their impact on wildlife and there had been no instances of bird or bat deaths. They said their wind turbines had been properly sited, away from feeding and migration areas. One of their wind turbines was sited at the headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) – one of the organisations involved in the planning approval.

They said the statement "No animals are harmed in the making of our power" was clearly intended to be a play on words – the line often seen in the credits of films or TV programmes involving animals. The smiley face had been added to ad (d) to make it clear there was some intentional tongue-in-cheek humour, as well as a serious message.

Furthermore, they believed consumers were likely to interpret the claim in the way it was intended because the context in the preceding paragraphs made clear that whilst animals and their by-products were used in the production of power by some other energy companies, no animals had been harmed in the making of their electricity.


1. Not upheld

The ASA noted that Ecotricity had a valid certificate of registration from the Vegan Society, who had audited their electricity production processes. We were therefore satisfied that it was the case that the electricity they generated was vegan or animal-free.

We noted the ads included claims that Ecotricity could "supply" animal-free or vegan electricity, but did not explain that electricity distributed by the National Grid came from various energy suppliers, including those that used animal by-products, and that the way Ecotricity "supplied" their electricity was by inserting the same amount of electricity into the National Grid as that used by their customers, to effectively offset what they used. We considered that whilst there would be some consumers who would be aware of the central distribution of electricity via the National Grid and this offsetting process by energy providers, some consumers might not be aware of that, and might mistakenly assume that the electricity delivered to their homes would be sourced directly from Ecotricity.

We considered the key consideration for consumers when deciding whether to respond to the ads would be whether or not they wished to switch from their current provider (which might use animal by-products in the production of their electricity) to one which would be generated without using animal by-products, rather than whether the electricity would be directly delivered from Ecotricity to their home. We also considered that, because it was generally not possible for energy from a particular supplier to be supplied directly from the power source to the consumer, and because purchasing from a vegan supplier added to vegan energy supplied through the National Grid, any consumers who responded to the ads in the mistaken understanding that they would be supplied directly from Ecotricity would have been unlikely to take a decision to not sign up to Ecotricity's tariff had they been aware of how energy was supplied and distributed through the National Grid.

For those reasons, we considered that the claims in ads (a) to (d), that Ecotricity could supply vegan or "animal free" electricity, were not misleading.

On that point, we investigated ads (a) to (d) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules  3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.  and  3.3 3.3 Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the  medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means.
 (Misleading advertising) and  3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation.  (Substantiation), but did not find them in breach.

2. Not upheld

We noted that the image of raw minced beef coming out of an electric power socket was relevant to the product being advertised – vegan electricity. We considered that in the context of an ad for vegan electricity, whilst there would be some consumers who were likely to find the image distasteful or unpleasant, it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence or cause distress. We therefore concluded the ads did not breach the Code.

On that point, we investigated ads (a) and (d) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules  4.1 4.1 Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards.
Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily breaching this rule. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material.
The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code.
 and  4.2 4.2 Marketing communications must not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason; if it can be justified, the fear or distress should not be excessive. Marketers must not use a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention.  (Harm and offence), but did not find them in breach.

3. Not upheld

We acknowledged that the claim "No animals were harmed in the making of our power" in ads (a) and (d) could be interpreted as an absolute claim, that no animals had ever been harmed by Ecotricity's infrastructure, such as its wind turbines, including any incidental deaths, for example bats or birds accidentally flying into turbine blades. However, we considered that, given the context of the ad for vegan or "animal free" electricity, consumers would interpret the claim to mean that no animal by-products from the agricultural industry, where animals were harmed or slaughtered for meat, were used in the generation of their electricity. Because that was the case, we concluded that the claim was not misleading.

On that point, we investigated ads (a) and (d) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule  3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.  (Misleading advertising), but did not find them in breach.


No further action necessary.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

3.1     3.3     3.7     4.1     4.2    

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