Ad agencies // 2021


#BanFossilAds campaign targets advertising agencies over work with highly polluting clients.

October 2021.

Top advertising agencies HQ’d in London have been accused of greenwashing major polluters including car and SUV companies, airlines and fossil fuels, in a campaign that saw over 200 billboards and bus stops hacked by activists in the UK, Belgium and France.

Leading agencies were targeted over their role in the climate crisis, as spoof ads installed without permission linked Ogilvy, MediaCom, VCCP and others with their high carbon clients such as Shell, BP, Jaguar Land Rover and British Airways.

The action was part of four days of Europe-wide grassroots actions to protest fossil advertising and sponsorships, under the banner #BanFossilAds.

The spoof ad campaign aimed to place the advertising industry into the climate picture, with agency logos across imagery of climate breakdown including wildfires and floods. The action particularly called attention to ‘greenwashing’, in which companies make false or misleading claims about their environmental credentials, after a recent report by DeSmog found that two thirds of advertising by major polluters is greenwash.

Climate campaigners have called greenwashing practices a second wave of climate denial. Following the playbook of previous billion-dollar PR campaigns by major oil and gas companies to deliberately spread misinformation to make us doubt climate change, a current surge in greenwash advertising insidiously frames major polluters as part of the solution.

One artwork by Michelle Tylicki features Ryanair, British Airways, Virgin and Easyjet with the words, “We don’t have a credible plan to reduce emissions. But we do have lots of greenwash adverts.” Each of these airlines was in the top ten emitters of CO2e in Europe in 2019 – and each have recently been advertising their ‘net zero’ pledges including the use of carbon offsetting to ‘cancel out’ their emissions, an approach that has been shown to be a false solution to climate change. Meanwhile they continue to expand their operations under an undeserved social license.

The satirical posters, created by artists Noel Douglas, Matt Manson, Fokawolf, Michelle Tylicki, Nancy Heley and David Araeva, also call attention to the irony of continued advertising for carbon-intense industries in the context of the climate crisis. One by Matt Manson satirises easyJet’s ‘This is generation easyJet’ advertising campaign created by ad agency VCCP. With the strapline “This is generation climate breakdown”, the spoof ad displays an invitation to purchase “Flooded landscapes for €14.99” across images of a flooded city.

Another design by artist Fokawolf takes aim at adverts that sell thousands of polluting SUVs – when we need to rapidly reduce emissions. The artwork features a Range Rover and a more honest message satirising ad campaigns for these highly polluting vehicles: Ignore the kids, Burn the planet (Ignorez les infants, Brûlez la planète).

Advertising by companies including Jaguar Land Rover has been the subject of several recent legal complaints. UK group Badvertising has launched an official complaint to UK ad regulator the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) against Land Rover over advertising that seemed to place the car company ‘beyond restrictions’ despite its massive contribution to carbon emissions. Badvertising are lobbying to ban SUV ads – sign here.

In another case, Client Earth launched a successful legal complaint against BP’s ‘Keep Advancing’ campaign by Ogilvy, which had the strapline “We’re working to make energy cleaner” and was released at a time when BP had 96% of its annual spend on oil and gas.

Commenting on the action, Robbie Gillett from counter-advertising campaign group Adfree Cities said:

“For too long, the advertising industry has escaped scrutiny for their role in the climate crisis. Whether it’s using the best creative talent to promote high carbon products, providing misleading greenwash for big oil companies or filling our public spaces with energy intensive ad screens, the juggernaut of polluting PR needs to end.”

Tona Merriman from Brandalism said: 

“Greenwash is the second wave of climate denial in which polluters use false claims about carbon offsetting and ‘net zero’ to delay meaningful climate action. We want to bring the ad agencies who do this greenwashing back into the picture.

Even when they’re not actively deceiving the public, advertisers’ constant manufacturing of new desires for never-ending cycles of consumerism is trashing the planet. We need a paradigm shift.”

More images are in the Gallery below. Follow the story on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #BanFossilAds.