A question for you…
If I were to ask you what connects plastic bottles, electric scooters, oat and almond milk drinks and singing otters, you’d probably have a hard time giving a reasonable answer.
But at the ASA, we have come to realize that these seemingly disparate things for marketers have something very important in common.
What unites them is that they all deal with ads that the ASA recently banned for making misleading claims about the environment. And although the marketers thought they were making the case for their product or service and its positive impact on the environment, in every case they stumbled in the process.
Not the enemy of good
Our recent high profile judgments relating to Alpro, Oatly, Pepsi Lipton, Aqua Pura, Tier and Innocent Drinks were all prompted by consumer complaints. And they speak to our goal of shining a brighter spotlight on misleading and socially irresponsible claims that affect the environment.
We recognize that in each of these cases, the advertisers were trying to emphasize eco-friendly aspects of their products. We certainly have no issues with recycled plastics versus single-use plastics, or scooter-sharing programs that get people off more polluting modes of transportation, or plant-based beverages, which generally offer lower-carbon alternatives to dairy.
At ASA, we don’t want to be the enemy of good.
But just because your brand aims to do good for the environment doesn’t mean you can ignore the rules of accuracy, evidence and responsibility when creating your ad. Take the case of Alpro, who said, “Good for you, good for the planet”. But what was “good for the planet”? Sustainable Almonds? 100% recycled packaging? organically produced? The ad had to make the basis of the claim clear, but it didn’t.
We will monitor all requests to the same high standards to ensure a level playing field so consumers have the information they need to make informed choices about the environment.
The rules are clear. Advertisements that make environmental claims must make the basis on which they are made easy to understand. You must consider the full life cycle of a product or service unless it is clear that a limited claim is being made. They must be careful not to claim too much and not omit key information. Objective claims require evidence at the time the ad appears. You must also be socially responsible.
In too many cases, we see examples where advertisers make inflated claims or where claims are imprecise. Take Tier’s claim to be “eco-friendly”. But while e-scooters are more environmentally friendly than some modes of transportation, they still have an impact on the environment throughout their life cycle.
And too often we hear the defense the advertiser had intended something else to say However, we do not regulate ads based on an advertiser’s intentions. For example, in the Innocent case, they argued that their ad was intended as a broad call to action regarding the environment, but we concluded that many consumers would understand the claims to mean that Innocent’s products were inherently green , although this was not the case.
We regulate based on how an advertising claim is likely to be understood by the audience to which it is directed. So put yourself in the shoes of the average member of the public you are talking to, who doesn’t know nearly as much about the evidence, science or process behind the claims. They won’t be like you spent days, weeks, or months thinking about the product or service.
When creating a claim, keep it simple. Be specific. Limit the claim to what you really want to draw attention to. And beware of making big, bold, absolute claims unless you’re sure you can back them up.
In the years to come, we are committed to continuing to crack down on misleading and socially irresponsible ads. We don’t apologize for that. There is too much at stake for us to do anything else.
But we are also here to help.
We’ve supported the amazing work Ad Net Zero is doing in the industry by contributing to their training materials. We have issued advertising guidelines and more will follow. We are developing a new e-learning module for release later this year. We continue to offer advertisers advice on their ad claims through our free, confidential Copy Advice service.
Environmental claims in advertisements can be the safest to construct. But help is out there, so take it. If you are unsure of where and how to start, our dedicated Copy Advice team are always available to help, or simply visit www.asa.org.uk/environment for more information.
In this way you will successfully claim that you are good and not the enemy of good.
Originally published on The Drum, June 6, 2022
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